For those of us who work in the field of HIV, words like “eradication” or “elimination” are not commonly used. Yet, new evidence and tools suggest that getting to zero might just be possible if we look at HIV through a fresh lens and focus our limited resources in strategic ways. As World AIDS Day nears, an example in Vietnam shows one promising approach.
Vietnam is at a tipping point. The country is working hard to scale up methadone maintenance treatment for injecting drug users and to provide antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for those living with HIV. External resources, however, are declining and every dollar (or Vietnamese dong (VND)) makes a difference. The cascade of HIV care — an approach that links prevention outreach, testing and treatment services across a continuum of care — helps identify the key opportunities to improve services to stop the spread of HIV. This tool has come to Vietnam at a critical time. Vietnam’s HIV epidemic is still in a concentrated phase, with the highest seroprevalence among populations at higher risk. These include injecting drug users, female sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Using the cascade — in every facility, commune, district and province — helps Vietnam monitor HIV service system performance and focus its remaining human, financial and programmatic resources on the ultimate aim of the HIV response: viral suppression. The cascade approach identifies “leaks” in the system to target resources on interventions that diagnose people with HIV, initiate ARV treatment quickly and sustain those individuals with continued care. Knowing where the drop-offs are most pronounced can assist decision makers and service providers in implementing system improvements and service enhancements that make the greatest impact on individuals, communities and Vietnamese society.