e meets in New York next week to commemorate World AIDS day and possibly plan new strategies against the epidemic, the people of Nyika village in Zimbabwe will be burying more of their dead.
Nyika epitomizes the total devastation and human misery brought on by HIV/AIDS affecting a staggering 25 million people across Africa, the epicenter of the global AIDS catastrophe. Even if the U.N. General Assembly agrees on a battle plan during the World AIDS day on December 1, it will be too late for most of the people in Nyika.
Agnes Moyondizvo, a 72-year-old grandmother, cannot remember the last time a week passed in this village without a funeral or a death because of AIDS. “Sometimes I have this feeling that God has abandoned us, and that this is the way we are all going to perish … At the rate at which this disease is killing us, I don’t think there will be any survivors here in two years’ time,” Moyondizvo said.
She has already buried four of her own eight children and six grandchildren in the past three years. In the five days before she spoke to The Zimbabwean, five more people died in her tiny village of 40 families, all of them linked to HIV/AIDS.
“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 said.
Nyika, some 270 kilometres southeast of the capital Harare, has become home to scores of AIDS orphans and many of the village’s small farm plots are lying idle because of a lack of healthy adult workers.
More and more villagers are lining up for meagre and scarce aid from the cash-strapped government, according to Moyondizvo. The misery in Nyika is repeated through 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.
The United Nations will seek on World AIDS day to lay the basis for a broad multibillion dollar strategy to tackle AIDS worldwide. A plan to rescue Africa from its AIDS crisis is vital to getting drugs to where they are desperately needed and to build a health infrastructure able to deal with this unprecedented calamity. Africa is home to more than 25 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
In Zimbabwe, only a tiny minority can afford drugs that prolong life or treat diseases linked to AIDS. Most are condemned to die in abject conditions, many ostracized by their own communities.
Four of the five countries most hurt by AIDS are in Africa, led by South Africa which has more AIDS sufferers than anywhere else, followed by Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia, according to U.N. estimates. In five African countries – Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – at least one in five adults are HIV-positive.
In the hardest hit, Botswana, people are dying at an average of 23 years earlier than they would be without AIDS.
Health officials say Zimbabwe has one of the world’s highest rates of AIDS cases, with more than a quarter of its 12,5 million people estimated to be infected with the HIV virus. Government claims AIDS prevalence rates are going down. But AIDS is still killing at least 3,000 people a week, and experts predict Zimbabwe could become the first country in the world to record zero percent population growth next year.
The United Nations children’s fund UNICEF projects that Zimbabwe’s average life expectancy would drop to 27 years within the next decade from a current 34 years and 62 years in 1990.
Despite a drop in prevalence rates from 25 percent to 20 between 2000 and 2005, Zimbabwe is still battling a serious HIV/AIDS crisis. Up to 1,6 million 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, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch.
President Mugabe recently pledged to increase access to ARV treatment from 25,000 to 70,000 by year-end. But NGOs say this target is a pipedream and if anything, the situation is actually getting worse. Reports abound of government ministers looting ARVs from government hospitals.
Antiretroviral therapy has been available in nine provincial hospitals in Zimbabwe at a cost of $28,000 for a month’s supply, but few Zimbabweans have joined the treatment programme due to the high cost.
NGOs involved in HIV/AIDS issues say lack of access to ARV treatment has perpetuated stigma and discrimination in Zimbabwe. The high cost of ARVs, lack of skilled healthcare workers is frequently cited as obstacles to scaling up ARV treatment due mainly to donor fatigue.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, international donors have significantly reduced direct assistance to Zimbabwe since 2000 due to President Mugabe’s appalling human rights record and failed economic policies.
“The Zimbabwe government must recognize the incendiary effect of human rights abuses on the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said the report commissioned by Joe Amon, the executive director of the HIV/AIDS programme at Human Right Watch. “Unless Mugabe’s government puts an end to theses abuses, tens of thousands more will become infected, and the gains it has achieved in the fight against AIDS will amount to nothing.”
"We don't cry at funerals any more - we have no more tears"
BY GIFT PHIRI
NYIKA - While the political elit