Laos has a concentrated HIV epidemic compared to other countries, with the prevalence of HIV still at a low level in key groups.
But risk behaviours threaten to increase the prevalence of HIV transmission amongst the population so the National Centre for HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections has worked to monitor activities through the Linkages across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV (LINKAGES) project.
The one-year project, costing an estimated US$400,000, is supported by USAID and will be implemented in Vientiane, in addition to the provinces of Savannakhet and Champassak.
The centre’s Director, Dr Bounpheng Philavong, spoke about the project after he signed an agreement with the Family Health International’s (FHI 360) Regional Director of LINKAGES for Thailand and Laos, Dr Stephen Mills.
Deputy Minister of Health Dr Phouthone Moungpak and other senior officials witnessed the signing of the agreement.
In his opening remarks at the signing ceremony, Dr Bounpheng said the project will be managed by the centre with technical support from FHI 360 and will focus on the development of more effective and sustainable systems to reach, test, treat and retain in services members of key affected populations facing HIV infection risks.
The project will use the HIV cascade of services as the overall strategic framework for its implementation.
The HIV cascade illustrates how individuals should ideally move through the continuum of HIV prevention-treatment-care-support services to reduce HIV transmission as well as to ensure a high quality of life for people living with HIV.
Dr Bounpheng noted that the project will also support the centre and provincial committee for the control of AIDS in each targeted province by implementing the HIV intervention programme for men who have sex with men and transgender people.
He said the HIV cascade emphasises the intervention stages of reach, test, treat and retain as key steps to ensure long-term antiretroviral treatment adherence that results in a low viral load.
The end goal a of low viral load among people living with HIV is the hallmark of treatment as prevention.
For people who are HIV-negative, the HIV cascade stresses the importance of primary prevention; this entails consistent use of condoms and regular, repeated HIV testing, Dr Bounpheng said. Both of these behaviours continue to be major challenges in both Laos and across the globe.
Many countries have yet to implement these innovations and so multiple countries in the Asia region, including Thailand where I am based, are looking to Laos to see how oral fluid screening works and how it can help to increase HIV testing among key populations, Dr Mills said.
Dr Mills emphasised that FHI 360 looks forward to continue to work together with Laos as new drugs, technologies and behavioural strategies are developed to prevent HIV/AIDS and care for those who are already infected with the virus.
The most recent integrated biological and behavioural surveillance survey among men who have sex with men in 2014 revealed an HIV prevalence of 1.8 percent in Vientiane, 0.8 percent in Savannakhet, and 0.3 percent in Champassak, according to the centre.
Source: Vientiane Times