ESWATINI — In a promising development, Eswatini, the tiny African nation, is inching closer to a significant milestone in its battle against HIV.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country is poised to witness a decline in the annual count of new HIV cases, dropping from 4,800 in 2020 to an estimated 4,300 by the end of this year.

These encouraging figures shed light on the nation’s remarkable progress in the fight against HIV, driven by a combination of factors including improved treatment, prevention measures, and collaborative efforts.

In 2020, Eswatini etched its name in history by becoming the first African nation to reach the coveted “95-95-95 targets.”

This ambitious goal signifies that 95% of all HIV-positive individuals have been identified, 95% are on antiretroviral medication (ART), and 95% of those receiving treatment have achieved viral suppression.

This triumphant achievement has been a pivotal turning point in the nation’s HIV response.

The impact of this exceptional level of treatment is vividly reflected in the decreasing number of HIV-related deaths. In 2005, the nation grappled with nearly 10,000 deaths attributed to HIV.

Fast forward to 2021, and that number had significantly dropped to 2,600. By 2022, it dipped even further, reaching 2,370, as outlined in the 2021 UNAIDS report. This dramatic reduction underscores the tangible benefits of effective treatment and care.

Breaking the chain: Mother-to-Child Transmission

Another heartening accomplishment in Eswatini’s HIV response has been the substantial reduction in mother-to-child transmission.

In 2017, the transmission rate stood at a concerning 6.3%, but by 2022, it had plummeted to a mere 1.2%.

This achievement is a testament to the nation’s commitment to protecting the youngest members of its population from the scourge of HIV.

In a statement, the WHO’s Eswatini division attributed these milestones primarily to unwavering political will and collaborative endeavors involving various partners.

The WHO emphasized, “The strong leadership at both the political and Ministry of Health (MoH) levels, coupled with WHO Eswatini’s presence, has resulted in a well-coordinated response that also complements the support from partners’ evidence-based, patient-centered care at scale.”

WHO’s supportive role

The WHO played a crucial role in Eswatini’s HIV response, particularly in the implementation of the antiretroviral therapy program in 2003.

This program significantly improved access to treatment and care services, becoming one of the cornerstones of the nation’s fight against HIV.

Additionally, the WHO supported the shift of HIV treatment from nurses to support staff within communities.

This transformation, aligned with WHO recommendations, facilitated rapid decentralization of ART initiation and follow-up care, ultimately enhancing treatment coverage across the nation.

PEPFAR’s global impact

Notably, the United States marked a significant milestone of its own in the fight against HIV/AIDS earlier this year.

The 20th anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), initiated under the George Bush administration, underscored the enduring commitment of the United States to combat this global health crisis.

PEPFAR’s influence has been profound, spanning across the African continent, which has witnessed an estimated 30 million HIV/AIDS-related deaths since 1982.

The program played a pivotal role in reducing adult infection rates in Africa from 6.1% in late 2005 to 5% by 2007, contributing significantly to the global effort to control the epidemic.

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