Zimbabwe has launched its revised national guidelines for HIV testing and counseling with special emphasis on couples, children and adolescents as it steps up efforts to halt the spread of the virus that causes AIDS.
Speaking at the launch of the new guidelines Thursday, the Health Ministry’s AIDS and Tuberculosis director, Dr. Owen Mugurungi, said HIV and testing and counseling remain the cornerstone in the fight against AIDS.
He said the new guidelines will assist service providers in expanding children and adolescent access to quality testing and counselling.
Dr. Mugurungi said while previously testing and counseling was mainly targeting the sick or those donating blood, his ministry now wants families, partners and adolescents to get tested and know their status so that they can be linked to care, treatment and support.
Mugurungi said the government is putting emphasis on the testing of children as statistics show that many of the estimated 190,000 children living with HIV in the country and aged between 0 to14 years did not know their status in 2013.
Their parents and caregivers did not know the children’s HIV status, preventing them from getting the necessary treatment, care and support services needed to stay healthy.
Under these guidelines, a child aged 16 years is considered able to give full consent for HIV testing and counseling.
If a parent and caregiver cannot give consent for a child below 16 years of age, yet the health workers believe the testing to be in the best interests of the child, health workers would be allowed to exercise the best interest of the child and seek approval for the person in charge of a clinic or hospital to do the testing and counseling.
Emmanuel Gasa of the AIDS and Arts Foundation Zimbabwe said it is encouraging that the new guidelines target previous left out groups such as children and adolescents.
Government is targeting that 85 percent of the population including children and adolescents must know their HIV status by 2015.
Almost every Zimbabwean has heard about HIV, knows where to get tested but only about 50 percent of the population know their HIV/AIDS status.
An estimated 1.4 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe with about 1 million in urgent need of antiretroviral therapy.