HIV rates fall – perhaps because more are dying

Marking the recent World AIDS Day, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa talked of getting more people on life-prolonging anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs, and Robert Mugabe chimed in with some bluster about British demonisation of our country leading to a drop in help from international donors. Neither

Parirenyatwa nor Mugabe, naturally, mentioned Operation Murambatsvina. It was all as if nothing had happened. As if there were no thousands of people rendered homeless, uprooted, living in the open; as if this cruel displacement had not interrupted the strict medical regimes of those receiving ARVs. Worse still, there are reports that the Mugabe regime has actually ordered some organisations to stop distributing the drugs, while Zanu (PF) chefs and officials are still getting the medication. SW Radio Africa spoke to a woman who for years had been helped by an organisation in Mabvuku, which supplied single HIV positive women with drugs and the required nutritional foods and supplements. The woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said that in July supplies suddenly dried up and the organisation said it had been ordered by the authorities to stop distribution of both food and drugs. Three women on the programme have since died, she said, and she herself is deteriorating rapidly. She now has infected canker sores from her throat to her stomach and can barely afford pain killers. Back in the world of people with jobs and homes, Parirenyatwa announced that an estimated 21,000 Zimbabweans were on ARVs, while the latest official figures showed that 1.6 million are living with HIV/AIDS. I am hoping that come next year, with the global fund money coming through, we should have more people on treatment, he said, offering no further details. Zimbabwes HIV infection rate has fallen to about 20% of the population from 25% five years ago, apparently due to more condom use and fewer sexual partners. The country, with a population of 12.5 million, is, however, expected to record 134,993 new HIV infections and 142,330 AIDS cases by the end of this year, while another 139,950 people are expected to die from the disease. Some 57% of infections and deaths are women. UN statistics, based on governmental and NGO research, showed that HIV infection levels among pregnant women dropped from 26% to 21% in Zimbabwe, while in South Africa it rose to a record 33%. A falling prevalence rate may mean that deaths from the virus are outnumbering the newly infected, particularly given the acute food shortages in Zimbabwe.

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