HARARE – HIV/AIDS was first diagnosed in the country 25 years ago and the government of President Robert Mugabe initially ignored it. Instead, donors and independent journalists, and a few well-known personalities who were infected, spread the word about the disease and how to avoid infection.
Eventually the government began to take the disease seriously. In 2007, the U.S. Agency for International Development concluded a countrywide testing project and found that Zimbabweans, more so than others in the high-infection countries, had begun to change their behaviour, resulting in the rate of new infections to drop significantly.
Before Zimbabwe's inclusive government came to power in 2009, Mugabe's financial policies created hyperinflation, ripping the economy apart and causing AIDS-related deaths to spiral as money to buy anti-retrovirals became scarce.
But these days, new infections have been cut in half since the early days of the pandemic. Most urban Zimbabweans are well informed about the disease and it is more openly discussed.
Jennifer Masaisai took her children to a Harare hospital this week for their annual health checks.
“Overall at government level, I would applaud them. They are doing well, like the approach they have used toward the mother-to-child transmission. There has been massive education and there’s a lot of campaigning that has been done to try to minimize at all levels any new infections among newly-born babies,” said Masaisai.
Soloman Banda was less complimentary about the government's management of HIV/AIDS.
“Most people who have already started ARVs treatment are actually complaining that they are not getting treatment on time. Sometimes they are defaulting and that is very dangerous,” said Banda.
Orlando Manuwere, communications officer for the National AIDS Council, is optimistic that in spite of declining international donor support, Zimbabwe's government may be able to fund more ARVs via the AIDS tax to which all taxpayers contribute.
“It’s good news that the economy is projected to grow by around 9.4 percent, so obviously that is going to have a ripple effect on what goes toward health, what goes towards the AIDS levy,” said Manuwere.
Medical scientists say 30 years after the world became aware of this new virus, and despite significant advances in treatment and prevention, the goal of 2011 World AIDS day is still a long way off, particularly in southern Africa.Post published in: News