After spending nearly a week and a half in Zambia during the second half of July with nine other new media journalists we concluded our final day with an official visit to the United States Embassy in Lusaka. We met with representatives from USAID, PEPFAR, the Peace Corps, and the CDC. We also met with the US Ambassador to the Republic of Zambia, Mark. C. Storella. The visit provided a capstone to all of the site visits and panel discussions we had reporting from Zambia. It also provided a tightly wrapped conclusion to the information we learned on the ground not only in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, but also in some of the rural areas in Zambia’s Southern Province.
Dr. Lawrence Marum, the country Director for the CDC in Zambia mentioned that for two decades HIV transformed countries and now the best prevention is through early detection. “We have gone through a transformation I didn’t think I would see in my lifetime,” Marum said. “Five hundred thousand people are alive today in Zambia and on ARVs who otherwise would be dead.”
Marum also underscored the skepticism many in the west had in the early 1990s about African doctors’ ability to prescribe ARVs. Today thousands of Zambian doctors can prescribe ARVs which shows a significant sustainability and capacity change.
In Zambia, through work with these four key US partners as well as through the Department of Defense, Zambia is creating a climate of increased access to HIV testing, education, and counseling, PMTCT, access to ARVs, cervical cancer screening, voluntary male circumcision, and the reduction of maternal mortality. In fact, Zambia is one of three countries that is on track to eliminate PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) and could create an AIDS-free generation. Zambia is also working diligently to rampantly reduce the maternal mortality rate of 591 per 100,000 live births. Compare that to 4 per 100,000 live births in the United States. Working in select districts in Zambia, the maternal mortality is dropping significantly. It’s only a matter if the interventions can be scaled.
Under the leadership of Ambassador Storella, Zambia is gradually becoming an active part in financing countrywide health services and is moving to accept country ownership of health programs. This is a process to be sure. Zambian officials have responded and have increased budget allocations for HIV/AIDS detection and treatment.
“Zambia is moving in the right direction,” Storella said.
In fact, Zambia has increased their health budget by 45 percent. Storella realizes that there will come a point where despite budgets health programs will have to be sustainable. “We cannot just provide treatment,” he said. “We have to ramp up health systems.”
One of the main goals of Ambassador Storella is to ensure that US-funded programs produce measurable results and that he shows good stewardship of the American taxpayer’s money. “Diseases don’t know borders,” Storella said. “We are the front line of protecting the American people and the world.”
I reported about HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria as an International Reporting Project Zambia fellow.