Zim risks losing war on Aids

HARARE - Zimbabwe is still in danger of losing the war on HIV/Aids despite major medical advances and more than 25 years of effort, if latest statistics are anything to go by.

According to the United Nations, Zimbabwe ranks fifth among countries with the highest HIV/Aids prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa.

About 1,4 million people — out of the country’s 13 million population — are living with the disease, including 170 000 children. 

Some 450 000 children have been orphaned due to HIV/Aids.

While the country has made great strides in the reduction of new infections, the government has not been able to reduce the number of people infected within mining communities, tertiary educational institutions and minority groups such as bisexual and transgender communities.

For instance, the government is still baffled by the high number of HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates in the mining community of Umzingwane District in Matabeleland South, which was recently invaded by thousands of gold panners from across the country. 

Official figures show that young people in the district between ages of 16 and 25 have a 21 percent HIV prevalence rate yet the national rate is at 15 percent. On the other hand, sex workers recorded over 30 percent prevalence rate while prisoners and long distance truck drivers both recorded 28 percent.

“Umzingwane is one of the smallest districts in the country but has the highest STI and HIV rate,” Health minister David Parirenyatwa said.

“It’s worrying and we want to know why it’s happening because the district is in the middle of nowhere, not in a border town. We therefore want to conduct a study that will unearth the reasons why this district is seriously affected by HIV and STIs. We will then map the way forward once the results are out,” he added.

Umzingwane epitomises the total devastation and human misery brought on by HIV/Aids affecting a staggering 23,8 million people across Africa, the epicentre of the global Aids catastrophe.

Mercy Ndlovu, a 68-year-old grandmother, cannot remember the last time a month passed in this community without a funeral or a death from an Aids-related complication.

“Sometimes I have this feeling that the ancestors are punishing us for some unknown sins… At the rate at which this disease is taking away our youths, it would be a miracle if we still have any young men and women left in the coming few years,” she said.

Ndlovu said she has already buried five of her own 11 children and three grandchildren in the past seven years.

“We still mourn our beloved but very few people shed any tears. Maybe it’s because people have cried so much that they don’t have tears anymore,” she added.

The misery in Umzingwane is repeated throughout Zimbabwe and the entire African continent where the vast majority of sufferers cannot get access to proper drugs or adequate health facilities to help treat their condition.

Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation is also compounding the situation with latest statistics showing that nearly 200 000 HIV-positive people are facing imminent deaths due to drought and lack of medical attention.

This comes as research has shown that food insecurity increases the risk to HIV infection and default on care, especially by young people, girls and women.

Charity worker, Paidemoyo Mhashu, who cares for an ever-growing number of Aids orphans, now at 45 in rural Mutoko, said orphans who reach their mid-teens are likely to adopt the same sexual behaviours that led many of their parents to contract HIV.

She said boys generally keep several girlfriends, and girls often have two or more boyfriends.

“People are not abstaining. People are not using condoms, they say it’s boring,” Mhashu said.

However, despite all the gloomy statistics, United Nations resident representative in Zimbabwe Bishow Parajuli maintains that the country still has a mathematical chance to achieve an Aids-free generation.

“HIV and Aids is still very much with us, there should be no room for complacency. Ending this pandemic requires each of us to work together, and with an intention and intensity that we are yet to see.

“Some of us will say that the risky behaviours and lack of will is ‘cultural’ or ’traditional’, however, if part of a tradition is a problem, it has to change,” he said.

This was after the country, which at the peak of the epidemic in the late 1990s nearly 30 percent of its population was living with HIV and Aids, made significant efforts to halve the size of those affected by the disease.

Parajuli said there are 915 000 Zimbabweans now on anti-retroviral treatment — two thirds of them with medicines supplied through Global Fund resources.

“But at least 300 000 more need to be on treatment as soon as possible so they can look forward to a normal lifespan,” he added.

The UN boss noted that his organisation, in partnership with the Zimbabwean government as well as other local and international partners, has put in place a sound multi-sectoral national response that both reflects the local realities and international commitments made through the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals on HIV/Aids.

“These commitments are in tandem with the ending Aids agenda where 90 percent of all people living with HIV know their status, at least 90 percent of HIV-positive people receive sustained treatment, and 90 percent of those on treatment have durable viral load suppression by 2020,” Parajuli said.

Aids activist Martha Tholanah said there was need to include minority groups in national reproductive health programmes in order to fight stigma and discrimination as part of efforts to win the war against the disease.

“We talk of leaving no one behind, we have all these slogans, but we won’t reach the targets set by the slogans if some sectors of the population are left behind because of their identity,” said Tholanah, who established and headed health programmes at Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe and the Network of Zimbabwean Positive Women (NZPW+).

Comments (4)

f

hnn - 10 October 2016

"Zimbabwe is the 5th..." it might not be surprising that Zim has the highest mortality rate from HIV-related illnesses, while all those in the top 4 record very few deaths.

Pakaipa - 28 October 2016

thank you so much for the above information. yaaa sure there is need to involve other minority groups like people with disabilities. if they are not represented in campaigns then it will e impossible for them to get the information

Trac - 31 March 2017

thank you so much for the above information. yaaa sure there is need to involve other minority groups like people with disabilities. if they are not represented in campaigns then it will e impossible for them to get the information

Trac - 31 March 2017

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