Gaborone – A new study published by the respected Lancet medical journal shows that Southern African has achieved the 90 percent HIV testing target set by the United Nations.
Across Africa south of the Sahara, the average testing ratio is 48 percent for people aged above 15 years, nearly half the figure in Southern Africa. Southern Africa’s statistics are the best on the continent.
The Lancet report adds: “Knowledge of status increased steadily from 57 percent in 2000 to 84 percent in 2020 in Sub-Saharan Africa. While knowledge of status increased dramatically in all four sub-Saharan African regions, knowledge of status was consistently lower in Western and Central Africa than in Eastern and Southern Africa.”
Men had lower knowledge of their status (79 percent) than women (87 percent), and people in the 15–24-year-old age set were the least likely to know their status (65 percent).
Such disparities, the report says, were observed among the 12 countries projected to achieve at least 90 percent of knowledge of status overall in 2020. Of these countries, only six (Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia and Rwanda) were projected to achieve 90 percent of knowledge of status among men, and none were projected to do so among 15–24-year-olds.
While the proportion of people living with HIV who are aware of their status was lower among younger adults, the absolute number of people living with HIV was also lower. Consequently, in absolute numbers, the largest group of undiagnosed people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa were men aged 35–49 years.
“This gap between age groups is the natural consequence of HIV transmission dynamics. HIV incidence is highest and average time since infection is short — and thus cumulative exposure to testing is lower — in this age group compared with older ones. To achieve 90% knowledge of status among 15–24-year-olds would require a simultaneous increase in testing with greater investment in HIV prevention to increase coverage of high-impact prevention intervention,” the report says.
It says analyses showed that among men who have sex with men in Africa, lower testing and knowledge of status were associated with more hostile legislation, and that knowledge of status remained low in this demographic.
Telemedicine emerges as game-changer
Victoria Falls – To escalate the fight against COVID-19, African countries are increasingly tapping into ICTs to halt the spread of the pandemic, a phenomenon being referred to as telemedicine.
The Namibia University of Science and Technology developed a mobile phone application to provide factual and essential information about COVID-19, and South Africa has a COVID-19 tracing app that uses Bluetooth technology to relay information. In Zimbabwe, the ZimCovid Safe App provides a similar public function.
Mobile applications such as Vula, the University of Cape Town’s open learning system, have been noted to be effective in providing psychological support to healthcare workers attending to patients.
Across the continent, medical authorities are using ICTs to assist patients and for referrals in a manner that reduces the risk of infection and in real time, a concept that has dubbed the “virtual hospital”.
A virtual hospital connects patients and consulting practitioners remotely via video and other technologies in real time. The concept revolves around rethinking traditional ways of delivering healthcare.
Virtual hospitals allow for remote monitoring and assessments of patients, whether they are at home or in a medical facility, and have been called the natural progression in the rise of telemedicine. They help overcome barriers such as distance, money and language.
In April, 2021 Quro Medical, which is pioneering digital health in South Africa, announced a US$1.1 million fund to build the largest virtual hospital ward on the continent. Zimbabwe announced similar plans in May.
The challenge in the use of ICTs in the health delivery especially rural areas in the region is lack of adequate infrastructure such as electricity and internet connectivity.
This however can be bridged through the adoption of solar energy and use of ICTs, as well as a reduction in the cost of communication in Africa.
And with most COVID-19 cases not requiring hospitalisation, telemedicine provides a way in which homecare can be done effectively without putting pressure on already strained public health delivery infrastructure and systems.