NAC Urges HIV Research Investment

NATIONAL AIDS Council (NAC) has called for the need to invest in HIV research if the rate of HIV transmission is to be reversed.

Speaking in Chisamba during a recent media symposium on HIV and AIDS, NAC director of programmes Harold Witola said there was no way that the country could develop innovative ideas without meaningful investment in HIV research.

The Abuja Declaration to which Zambia is party to, requires that nations spend allocate about 15 per cent of their budgets towards the health sector.

But in the case of Zambia, about 9 per cent was allocated to the health sector, which in value terms translated in an increment from the previous allocation.

But the percentage is still below the required 15 per cent, so if we can see an improvement in the allocation to the health sector, probably we could see an increment to allocation towards health research.

Currently only one per cent of the total budgetary allocation to the Health sector in Zambia is channelled towards HIV research.

“But when you look at the monitoring and evaluation (MampE) system, the evaluation part is part of the research component. Most organisations spend between four to five per cent of their total budgets on MampE,” he said.

Dr Witola said this is part of the research agenda, because research is just one of the methods of carrying out evaluation.

He said if evaluation is under-funded obviously the research component will also be under funded.

“So if we have a health budget with about four to five per cent allocation for MampE, then we will see more money going towards research,” he said.

Dr Witola said just like many other scientific fields, research in HIV is very important because it brings with it new knowledge and new ways of understanding and evaluating the management of HIV.

“Research is important because it brings to the fore new knowledge, new ways of doing things, it make you evaluating whether the interventions are working or not working,” he said.

He said research can be used for new discoveries like the development of new HIV drugs, without which the discovery of new drugs cannot be achieved.

“Our colleagues in the west have invested heavily in research to be able to come up with all these drugs we are using.

“And yet here where we are at the hub of the epidemic, we are not paying much attention to research,” he added.

Dr Witola said since the HIV epidemic as well as the genetics of the African people is different from that of people in the western world,there is need to have research that is specific for people in the Sub-Saharan region.

He said the country would gain and benefit from carrying out research from within Zambia, under local environment and conditions, as compared to waiting for people to do the research outside Zambia.

“And this also means that we cannot have the first hand benefits to whatever results are coming of these researches, because they are not our very own,” he said.

He said there is very little money being set aside for research, although the government is now setting up what they are calling Research Council.

Dr Witola is hopeful that this Research Council will be fully resourced to be able to deal with the legal issues around research approvals, to be able to quicken the approvals as well as the monitoring of research taking place in the country.

“I hope that this Research Council will be set up quickly in order to deal with all these bottlenecks what we have been having with approvals and finding of research,” he said.

He said the setting up of the research council will be able to attract the attention of similar institutions globally and work with them effectively, and be able to attract international funding.

“I believe they will be able to move the research agenda much faster.

“Currently things are moving slowly because there is no institution that is legally empowered to deal with research issues in Zambia,” he said.

“If we do research and find suitable means of tackling the problem, we would have clear evidence of how many lives we would be saving from

HIV infections, depending on the kind of research that will be embarked upon,” Dr Witola added.

Research helps one identify what can work, and it also points at the possible solutions that can be implemented in order to achieve the targeted results.

And speaking at the same occasion, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) programme analyst Francis Mbilima said the investment model for reduced HIV risk will result in reduced HIV transmission, reduced mortality and morbidity.

He said Zambia has a target of reducing new HIV infections to at least 40,000 by 2015, from the current 82,000 new infections per year.

He said the country also has a target to reduce infant HIV infections by five per cent.

Mr Mbilima said the greatest number of new HIV infections in Zambia is through heterosexual, whose transmission is estimated at about 41 per cent.

Currently from the health budget in Zambia, treatment of HIV accounts for about 37 per cent, while HIV prevention interventions accounts for 17 per cent, with 3 per cent for OVC support, 35 per cent for HIV programme coordination, and only one per cent for HIV research.

Source : The Times of Zambia

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