Why Tanzania ranks high in HIV/Aids deaths

A person taking a blood test at a roadside AIDS testing table in Langa, a suburb of Cape Town. South Africa has the highest AIDS incidence in the world. Tanzania is not far behind Photo | AFP 

Although Tanzania, like the rest of the world, has made remarkable progress in taming the HIV/Aids pandemic, the country still ranks high globally in the number of deaths caused by the deadly virus. Using 2009 figures, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ranks it number four in a new report, with an annual estimate of 86,000 deaths, which puts it on top in the East African Community (EAC) in the number of victims dying from the scourge and associated diseases.

According to the current CIA World Factbook, Tanzania is followed by Kenya in the EAC bloc where the estimated deaths are 80,000 and which is ranked number six globally. Uganda with 64,000 deaths and ranked number eight in the world is third followed by Burundi and Rwanda, which are globally ranked number 19 and 43 with the number of deaths put at 15,000 and 4,100, respectively.

The CIA HIV/Aids rankings, which have been faulted by the local authorities as unrealistic, is led by South Africa, Nigeria and India, where the fatality figures are 310,000, 220,000 and 170,000, respectively. Globally, the annual number of people dying from Aids-related causes has been steadily decreasing since 2005 with many deaths largely averted by the introduction of antiretroviral therapy.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advocates that the number of deaths can be significantly reduced with enough investment in HIV prevention, testing and counselling, treatment and care services.

The organisation says in a new report that countries with the highest fatalities like Tanzania are yet to achieve the universal access to antiretroviral therapy, which is at least 80 per cent of the people eligible for treatment.

“The global incidence of HIV infection has stabilized and begun to decline in many countries with generalised epidemics. The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy continues to increase, with 6.65 million people getting treatment at the end of 2010,” the UN agency notes in the Global HIV/Aids Response Progress Report 2011.

“Recent published evidence from clinical trials has confirmed the powerful impact antiretroviral drugs have on the epidemic as part of an effective package of options for HIV prevention. Despite these advances, still too many people are acquiring HIV infection, too many people are getting sick and too many people are dying,” it adds.

Anti-retroviral therapy

The WHO statistics show that the reported number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in Tanzania increased by 29 per cent between 2009 and 2010 from 199,413 to 258,069. There are about 1.4 million people living with HIV/Aids in the country, whose estimated antiretroviral therapy coverage by 2010 was put at 42 per cent compared to 55, 34 and 26 per cent in South Africa, India and Nigeria, respectively.

WHO says that the annual number of people dying from Aids-related causes worldwide is steadily decreasing from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005 to an estimated 1.8 million in 2010. It adds that introducing antiretroviral therapy has averted 2.5 million deaths in low- and middle-income countries globally since 1995.

Commenting on the CIA rankings, government officials dismissed the report as misleading since it did not reflect the current situation on the ground, which they said has improved tremendously.

They however admitted that the country still faces enormous challenges mostly in terms of inadequate health services infrastructure and financial resources to deal with the problem.

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