HIV in Africa
Big data is buzzing in the healthcare sector. As more and more data becomes available, analysts are looking for ways to improve the healthcare industry. While developed nations, with their multitude of activity trackers and smart devices, are better positioned to leverage big data, developing nations are also taking advantage of the rapidly growing pool of information being recorded.

The International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at Columbia University was clearly aware of the value of data when it proposed the Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA) Project. In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ICAP has been gathering data to measure the level of success against HIV in Africa. With the help of the ministries of health in the affected countries, they have been conducting surveys and diagnostic tests to measure national HIV incidence, pediatric prevalence and viral suppression. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia were the first countries to release their survey and test results. Over the next several years, 17 other countries will participate in the project and publish their findings.

So far, the results have been encouraging. The data indicates that the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is achieving success against HIV in Africa. PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to combat any single disease internationally. If the results from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia are early indicators, then the PEPFAR has been well worth the investment.

The initial results of the PHIA Project indicate that these countries are on track to achieve the 90-90-90 targets set by United States Agency for International Development (USAIDS). The goal is to have 90 percent of HIV patients diagnosed, 90 on antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent with adequate viral suppression by 2020. Models predict that the AIDS epidemic can be ended by 2030 if these goals are reached.

In Zimbabwe and Zambia, the treatment and viral suppression goals are almost a reality; more than 85 percent of patients are on treatment and virally suppressed. In Malawi, the viral suppression target has already been reached. The percentage of patients on treatment is just shy of 90 percent. Ninety percent and 86 percent of women and men, respectively, are on treatment. In all three countries, though, improvements in diagnosis are needed. Three out of every 10 patients are unaware of their status.

However, these early indicators of success against HIV in Africa are not signs that there is no more work to be done. Rather, in the words of Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, the director of ICAP, “Now more than ever, we have to keep our foot on the pedal and push even harder.”

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr