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Home » Latest News » MSF closes HIV/TB operation in Northern KwaZulu-Natal

MSF closes HIV/TB operation in Northern KwaZulu-Natal

Ashok Ramsarup :: The Geneva-based charity that provides humanitarian medical care -Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – has closed its HIV/TB operation in the South African town of Eshowe situated in the Northern KwaZulu-Natal Province. 

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) which operates in conflict zones and countries affected by endemic diseases, ended the groundbreaking initiative after operating in the town for almost a quarter century. This follows the achievement set by the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets two years ahead of schedule. 

Now the MSF said in a statement that the closure reflects a shift in focus towards new health challenges and a continued commitment to South Africa’s healthcare landscape.

The MSF and its partner, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, amassed international acclaim in 2019 for surpassing the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

MSF’s Southern Africa Medical Unit Head Tom Ellman has emphasised the evolving dynamics of HIV care, acknowledging that reaching 90-90-90 is a milestone, but not the endpoint. 

Ellman recognises South Africa’s substantial progress in HIV services, leading to a reduced role for what they described as “large vertical projects”. 

A researcher has found that the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country may be slow but the gains have been great. The Human Sciences Research Council report found that between 2017 and 2022 the figures dropped from 14.0% to 12.7%. 

MSF said: “Previous MSF HIV/TB projects in Khayelitsha near Cape Town in the Western Province and Lusikisiki in the Eastern Province were instrumental in innovating care models and influencing policies in South Africa in the regional front and beyond. 

“The uniqueness of the Eshowe project”, as highlighted by Liesbet Ohler, MSF Eshowe’s Medical Coordinator, lies in its massive scope, covering over 2000km².  Ohler said the project demonstrated the significance of community engagement and adaptation of care models to unique contexts.

Five years the NGO handed over HIV programmes in Eshowe to the government and shifted its focus to Tuberculosis (TB).

Regardless of notable achievements, challenges have been faced, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. MSF remains committed to South Africa, with ongoing investments in neglected areas. 

MSF’s Regional Operations Director Philip Aruna acknowledged the launch of the new non-communicable diseases (NCD) project in the Eastern Cape recently, drawing on lessons learned from HIV/TB initiatives. 

Aruna strongly believes that much of what MSF in South Africa learnt over the last two decades in working with HIV and TB, including in the recently concluded Eshowe project, was relevant to the management and care of type-2 diabetes and hypertension.

“These lessons can be easily adapted to transform how  NCDs are identified and managed,” he said.

In his keynote address at the 22nd edition of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) in Africa, currently underway in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, said while the event allowed the African continent to reflect on its ongoing challenges to HIV/AIDS. 

Mnangagwa said: “Africa should not relax as AIDS is not over. The pandemic remains one of the silent killers to sustainable socio-economic development.”

He said Zimbabwe made great strides in reducing new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.  “Currently Zimbabwe has achieved the 95-95-95 HIV/AIDS response target, but must keep going to end AIDS by 2030. 

Dr. Ishwar Gilada, Secretary General of Peoples Health Organisation, President Emeritus of the AIDS Society of India (ASI), and Governing Council member of International AIDS Society (IAS) said: “India’s role in AIDS control has been heroic, though the global agencies, including the United Nations, World Health Organisation (WHO), and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) – to some degree deliberately shy away from acknowledging India’s contribution in making anti-retroviral therapy (ART) affordable and accessible to over 90% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the world. 

“Can one imagine a Global AIDS Scenario minus India? This World Aids Day is also an occasion to portray India as a great global saviour, especially the global south.

Dr Gilada who has been at the forefront in the fight against AIDS added that India had played the greatest role in normalising the AIDS Pandemic. 

“Today HIV is a chronic manageable disorder, even better than diabetes”, Dr  Gilada concluded.

 United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that World AIDS Day was a defining moment.   “AIDS-related deaths have fallen by almost 70% since their peak in 2004, and new HIV infections are at the lowest point since the 1980s. But AIDS still takes a life every minute. We can – and must – end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030”, Guterres added.

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