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Prevention campaigns successful as HIV rate drops
December 08, 2005
- Zimbabwe has become the first southern African country to register
a decline in HIV prevalence, according to the Joint UN Programme
on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
A review of recent epidemiological and behavioural data in 'Evidence
for HIV decline in Zimbabwe', released by UNAIDS on Wednesday, said
the incidence of new HIV infections had also declined.
The review, conducted by a team that included research staff from
Britain's Imperial College, the prevalence of HIV among pregnant
women declined from 26 percent in 2002 to 21 percent last year,
and other data showed a similar trend.
The findings back up an earlier national survey, released in October,
that showed that Zimbabwe's HIV prevalence rate had dropped dramatically
in the past two years.
According to the October study - carried out by UNAIDS, the US Centres
for Disease Control and several universities - the percentage of
Zimbabweans between the ages of 15 and 49 infected with HIV dropped
from 24.6 percent to 20.1 percent in the last two years.
However, UNAIDS epidemiologist Peter Ghys has cautioned that "there
is still a lot of prevention work to be done".
The latest review observed that a change in sexual behaviour had
helped reduce HIV prevalence and incidence in Zimbabwe, "in particular,
a substantial increase in condom use with non-regular partners and
an increase in faithfulness have contributed to the decline".
Ghys said there was also concern over the impact on thousands of
Zimbabweans displaced by the government's clean-up campaign, Operation
Murambatsvina, which had disrupted HIV/AIDS prevention programmes.
The government's controversial campaign has left more than 700,000
Explaining the reasons for the apparent decline in HIV prevalence,
Ghys pointed out that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe was 'old'
compared to most other countries in the region, possibly dating
back to the mid-1980s. "It [Zimbabwe] has had a longer period of
time to respond to the crisis, as compared to South Africa, where
the epidemic began in the 1990s."
Northern African countries like Uganda and the Democratic Republic
of Congo, where the epidemic began in the early 1980s, have also
recorded a significant decline in HIV incidence.
Ghys said the review's findings indicated that HIV/AIDS prevention
programmes directed at changing sexual behaviour were responsible
for the lower number of new cases.
Local research in the eastern province of Manicaland showed that
young Zimbabweans were delaying becoming sexually active, promiscuity
was on the decline and women with frequently changing partners were
increasingly using condoms.
The Manicaland studies, conducted in a phased general population
survey, showed that between 1998 and 2000, and 2001 and 2003, HIV
prevalence declined from 4.9 percent to 2.7 percent in males aged
17 to 24 years, and from 15.9 percent to 7.9 percent in females
in the age group 15 to 24 years.
According to Ghys, the Zimbabwean government's decision to decentralise
its HIV/AIDS prevention programme had also proven to be an effective
strategy in curbing HIV incidence. "Very early in the epidemic the
government was charging an AIDS levy, which helped fund HIV prevention
programmes at the district level."
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