3 000 a week dying of AIDS says new report

By a Correspondent
LONDON- Abusive practices by the Zimbabwe authorities, coupled with inadequate health and social welfare policies, are undermining progress in the fight against AIDS, Human Rights Watch says in a new report, with than 3 000 people dying each week.
Despite a drop in HIV preva

lence rates from 25 to 20 percent between 2000 and 2005, Zimbabwe is still battling a serious HIV/AIDS crisis. Up to 1.6 million people are living with HIV in Zimbabwe, but only 25,000 of the 350,000 people in immediate need of antiretroviral drugs have access to treatment, the organisation said.
The 72-page report, “No Bright Future: Government Failures, Human Rights Abuses and Squandered Progress in the Fight Against AIDS in Zimbabwe,” documents how abusive policies and practices by the government are fuelling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, increasing vulnerability to infection, and obstructing access to treatment.
“Zimbabwe has been hailed as a ‘success story’ in the fight against AIDS,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “But abusive government policies are blocking treatment for those who desperately need it and making even more people vulnerable to infection.”
Last year’s bulldozing of homes and stalls has disrupted access to treatment and healthcare for many people living with HIV.
“Today, over a year after the evictions, hundreds of people living with HIV continue to live in appalling conditions, without shelter or in overcrowded houses. As a result many are left more prone to opportunistic infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis,” the report added.
“The evictions also interfered with HIV-prevention efforts; for example, police destroyed nearly 2,000 outlets providing condoms in the urban townships during the evictions. The government’s crackdown on the informal sector has also destroyed peoples’ livelihoods, increasing the risk of HIV infection for thousands, and further endangering the lives of those already infected.”
Women are particularly vulnerable, and many of them, now unable to sell produce or clothing by the side of the road or find a means of support, have been forced into high-risk sex work,
“The Zimbabwean government must recognise the incendiary effect of human rights abuses on the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Amon. “Unless Mugabe’s government puts an end to these abuses, tens of thousands more people will become infected, and the gains it has achieved in the fight against AIDS will amount to nothing.”
On the Mugabe regime’s recent pledge to increase access to antiretroviral treatment from 25 000 to 70 000 people by the end of the year, Human Rights Watch said thousands of people are unable to access treatment because of a lack of public information about antiretroviral therapy policies.
“Although nongovernmental organizations are central to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, they are often subjected to harassment and intimidation by the government’s central intelligence officers and local government officials,” the report said.
The report said international donors have significantly reduced direct assistance to Zimbabwe since 2000 due to the authorities’ poor human rights record and failed economic policies. It called for increased international funding for programmes for Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS.
“At the same time, donors should continue to call on the Zimbabwean government to respect human rights and provide an environment that is conducive to effectively addressing the crisis,” it added.

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