Mozambique: Half of HIV patients discontinued treatment after cyclones

There was a 50% drop in the number of follow-up visits for the HIV virus following the Idai and Kenneth cyclone crossings, which reached more than 1 million people, causing over 600 deaths in Mozambique. The number of people being treated also dropped to about half, according to an analysis by the country’s Ministry of Health.

According to the latest data from the United Nations Joint Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS), 2.2 million people in Mozambique live with the virus. This represents about 7.4% of the population. In 2018, around 150,000 new infections and 54,000 deaths were recorded, causing a drop in average life expectancy to 53.7 years. The challenge for Unaids right now is to stop new infections, with a very strong focus on prevention.

During both cyclones, 113 health facilities were partially or completely damaged, including equipment, furniture, essential medicines, and products. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates it will take five years to recover all damaged health infrastructure. “Interrupting treatments allow the return of opportunistic diseases and increase transmission rates,” laments expert Santinho Carvalho.

UN Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, said that in a natural disaster, the most vulnerable people always suffer the worst impacts. According to her, these people can be people with disabilities, the elderly or people living with HIV.

According to Eva Kiwango, Director of the United Nations Joint Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) in Mozambique, the country’s government is committed to ending the epidemic and aims to achieve the objectives by 2020. Eva Kiwango noted that Mozambique is one of the few countries in Africa where sex workers and men who have sex with men are not criminalized. Nevertheless, he said that the problem of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV still needs to be addressed to ensure that no one is left behind.

Food Security, Another Challenge

After her home in Cabo Delgado province, destroyed by cyclone Kenneth, Luisa May, 36, interrupted her treatment and three of her four children living with HIV. The family, already struggling to feed, had the situation worsened after the storm devastated the fields where they grew vegetables.

Four weeks after the cyclone, Luisa and her family were visited by Melita Baka, a UN-supported community activist, and the Ariel Glaser Foundation. The community worker and her colleagues visit homes of people living with HIV, explaining the importance of diagnosing and following treatment.

“We had many difficulties in the field because for many patients the priority was to seek food and shelter, not treatment. Many had to move home, some restarted treatment, others not, ”says Melita. She helped Luisa and her family to resume their medication. A few months later, however, Anísio, the 10-year-old son, had side effects. The boy was malnourished and when taking antiretrovirals, his lips were swollen.

Doctor Santinho Carvalho treats HIV patient at Macomia Hospital in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, Photo: UN News

Even before natural disasters, the World Food Program (WFP) estimated that 80% of Mozambicans could not have a proper diet. In July, the agency reported that 1.9 million cyclone-affected people face food insecurity if they do not have access to humanitarian aid.

The Mozambican state offers antiretroviral drugs, but there are still difficulties in their implementation. Only 56% of people with a positive diagnosis take the drugs. The rate is slightly higher among children, about 60%. Only 68% of people who start treatment continue to follow the plan a year later. In the country, the virus has left 1.1 million orphaned children.