HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo says there were 38,000 new HIV infections in 2021, with 40 per cent of these being in adolescents aged between 15 and 24.

And Masebo says at least 60 percent of persons living with the virus are females.

Speaking during the national HIV testing, counselling and treatment day, Monday, Masebo said last year alone, Zambia had 38,000 new HIV infections.

“Of huge concern are new HIV infections which are still unacceptably high. You may be aware that last year alone we had 38,000 new HIV infections. Nearly 40% of these new infections were in adolescents and young people aged between 15 and 24 years with about 11,000 of all new HIV infections in Adolescent Girls and Young Women. We certainly cannot afford to have new HIV infections especially in the young people who are the future of this country. The rise of new infections in adolescents and young people is attributed to various factors such as high-risk behaviors, early sexual debut, poor adherence to treatment, tendency not to test for HIV, alcohol and other drug abuses. I wish to urge the adolescent and young people to refrain from high risk behaviors that predispose them to contracting HIV. I therefore, call on you all our young people to use platforms that have been purposefully set for them such as adolescent-friendly safe spaces in public health facilities that are meant to provide comprehensive health services for you,” Masebo said.

“Evidence indicates that a larger proportion of the new HIV infections continue to be largely attributable to unprotected sex. Some HIV negative pregnant women get infected during the breastfeeding period and unknowingly pass their infection to their babies. 7% of HIV-exposed infants become infected with the virus at the end of their two-year breastfeeding period. This is concerning and calls for concerted efforts focused on instituting interventions to curb this challenge. It is therefore important to re-test women postnatally who were negative during pregnancy and at delivery. HIV-negative pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at high risk of HIV should optimise using HIV protective measures including the taking of pre-exposure prophylaxis.”

Masebo said it was estimated that 1.4 million people were living with HIV in Zambia.

And Masebo noted that the HIV epidemic in Zambia affected more women than men.

“Another fact to note is that the HIV epidemic in Zambia affects more women than men with at least 60% of all persons living with HIV in Zambia being females. This is attributed to many factors among them, cultural and socio-economic vulnerabilities that women are faced with. Further, the high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) is contributing significantly to the new infections as it creates barriers for women to access care and preventive services. On the other hand, it is sad to note that HIV and AIDS-related deaths mostly affect men because of their poor health-seeking behaviour. We note that men generally delay in accessing and utilising HIV testing, counselling and treatment services as they opt to test by proxy, based on their partner’s status. This [is a] practice which should not be encouraged because of possibilities of sero-discordance among couples. You can only know your HIV status by taking an HIV test and not through somebody else,” said Masebo.