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Zimbabwe's HIV infection rate falls, but much still to be done
HARARE – Zimbabwe’s
HIV rate has fallen, making it the first country in Southern Africa
– the epicenter of the global epidemic – to show a decline.
review by experts found that the rate among pregnant women fell
from 24.6% to 21.3% between 2002 and 2004, pushing the HIV sero
prevalence rate among Zimbabwe’s adult population to 20.1%.
The UN Children’s
Fund in Zimbabwe says the fall is good news for the country but
notes that the prevailing sero prevalence rate is still critically
high and girls remain especially under siege from HIV and AIDS.
one hand the drop comes as a result of successful interventions
in behaviour change on the part of Government, partners and donors,"
said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe, "though
part of the drop must also be attributed to mortality to AIDS-related
Changes in sexual
behaviour – in particular, young Zimbabweans are first having sex
at an older age than their peers in other African countries, and
condom use has increased over the years – are key to the rate’s
strong government commitment that has led to early investment in
education and health sectors, the establishment of an AIDS Trust
Fund, and the early creation of a National AIDS Control Programme
(now the National AIDS Council), have all been immensely influential
in the drop. UNICEF has also consistently supported HIV/AIDS and
life skills education in and out of school, including peer education,
the training of teachers and development of curricula.
UNICEF noted that morbidity due to HIV-related deaths also has a
role in the fall of the sero prevalence rate. HIV-related illnesses
kill 3000 Zimbabweans every week and this continues to increase
the number of orphans in the country. Conservative estimates put
the number of orphans due to AIDS-related deaths at one million
or one in five Zimbabwean children. The UN Children’s Fund also
highlighted that girls continue to suffer the brunt of the epidemic.
is no doubting that a drop in the rate is good news," said
Dr Kavishe, "but a sero prevalence rate of 20% remains extremely
high and this is not the moment for complacency, but rather for
putting even greater energy and resources into Zimbabwe’s fight
against HIV and AIDS, particularly around girls.
of five new infections in the 15-24 year old age group are among
girls, and orphaned girls in Zimbabwe are now three times more likely
to contract HIV than their non-orphaned peers," continued Kavishe.
"Despite this, HIV prevention programmes remain critically
under-funded. Far greater progress in prevention and in the reduction
of orphan numbers can only be made if funding returns to pre-2002
funds UNICEF will support the scaling up of critical and effective
programmes such as girl empowerment, youth sports, teacher training,
and involve more young people in care for HIV positive people, orphans
and vulnerable children, while supporting national prevention campaigns
and training more peer educators.
substantial support, the current positive trends will not be sustainable.
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