Australia Awardee Dr Wezi Kaonga says HIV fight requires holistic approach

With his country having one of the world’s highest HIV prevalence rates, despite a drop in recent years, Zambia’s Dr Wezi Kaonga says more focus needs to be placed on treating the HIV epidemic in Africa via a holistic health services approach.

Speaking on World AIDS Day, recipient of an Australia Awards double degree Scholarship to study HIV, STI & Sexual Health at the University of Sydney, Dr Kaonga says his country will not work its way out of the HIV epidemic with treatment alone.

“We know that globally the highest prevalence of HIV is still in sub-Saharan Africa,” Dr Kaonga said. “A key concern is that many of the countries grappling with high rates of HIV are dependent on so much goodwill from donors to fight the disease. It is imperative that Africa’s governments take leadership in owning the financial responsibility to fight this epidemic. There needs to be a focus on integrating each country’s health care budget to develop a sustainable source of funding to fight the disease.

“Using my country as an example, rather than installing a HIV fund we need to look at sustainable financing for the entire health of the population. This will require deliberate measures at country level to ensure that there are adequate resources provided for in the national budget covering the entire health sector in Zambia,” he said.

Upon completion of his Masters in early 2016, Dr Kaonga will return to Zambia’s health sector with a focus on primary health care whose ultimate goal is health for all. “Based on the old adage that prevention is better than cure, I will implement programs and policies that are aimed at promoting health and preventing disease at community level, reducing exclusion and social disparities in health and increasing stakeholder participation.”

A key focus of his study in Australia is looking at how first world countries integrate the issue of HIV with other general sexual health services.  He said his learnings would also assist in developing strategies to target the issue of HIV in Zambia’s adolescent population to make sure they are empowered to be part of the solution to ending this epidemic.

“One pivotal area for Zambia as a country is the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Although our country has had some success in reducing this, there are still children falling through the cracks and they are the ones who are growing up into adolescents who are already infected with HIV. I intend to use my Australia Award to focus on the specific need to look at our adolescent population with a different lens, and an understanding of what their particular challenges are. This will help us to design interventions that give young people access to quality HIV health and education options that enable them to make smart choices for their future so they don’t become a source of another epidemic for the country.”

With approximately 24.7 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living with HIV, the Australian Government’s commitment to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS on the continent, and reducing the stigma associated with it, is underlined by its investment in Australia Awards Scholarships and Fellowships.

Australia Awards is training more African health professionals to assist in the prevention and management of HIV/AIDS in their countries through the provision of Masters-level scholarships with a focus on public health.

For more information on how Australia Awards assists in the fight against HIV in Africa, click here

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