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Zimbabwe has the world’s fourth-highest rate of HIV prevalence and has been grappling with a food emergency, declining economic performance and the sharpest rises in child mortality in history. Growing international isolation resulting from controversial government policies has led to greatly reduced donor funds for the country; UNICEF has been appealing to the international community to look beyond the politics and focus on Zimbabwe’s children. A campaign of demolitions and evictions made more than half a million people homeless in 2005.
Issues facing children in Zimbabwe
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has assumed staggering proportions. A quarter of the population is HIV-positive; more than half of all new infections are among young people, primarily girls. Since 1990, HIV/AIDS has slashed the average life expectancy from 61 to 33 years.
Because of the cuts in donor funding, Zimbabwe receives the lowest donor support in southern Africa for people living with HIV, at only $4 per person per year; for comparison, in neighbouring Zambia the figure is $184 per person per year.
In addition to homelessness and displacement, the controversial government effort to “clean up cities and fight the black market across Zimbabwe” by means of evictions and demolitions led to considerable economic hardship.
Approximately 1.3 million, or one fifth of all Zimbabwean children have lost a parent; most have been orphaned by AIDS.
Drought, a land-redistribution scheme, and skyrocketing inflation have produced serious food shortages.
More than half the population lives on less than $1 a day.
Shortages in personnel, equipment and supplies plague Zimbabwe’s health-care infrastructure. Infant and under-five mortality rates have worsened sharply.
Over the past five years, Zimbabwe’s educational system has deteriorated, with attendance falling by about 25 per cent.
Activities and results for children
UNICEF supported Zimbabwe’s first National HIV/AIDS Conference, a forum for creating a comprehensive national response to the epidemic. Other strategies include training counsellors and peer educators, and instructing health-care workers in how to prevent parent-to-child transmission.
UNICEF and other aid agencies scrambled to meet emergency needs resulting from the eviction campaign, providing water, blankets, sheeting, latrines, mobile medical support and educational supplies.
Child Health Days supported by UNICEF provided vitamin A supplements and bednets for malaria prevention to thousands of children and pregnant mothers.
‘Young People We Care’, a UNICEF-supported youth initiative, encourages young people to support their communities by working alongside carers for the chronically ill and orphans.
Community-based care provided school assistance, psychosocial services and nutritional support to tens of thousands of orphans. UNICEF helped to create a National Plan of Action for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children.
UNICEF supplied vaccines, trained health-care workers and technicians, and provided equipment and transportation to immunize of thousands of children against preventable diseases.
To fight malaria, UNICEF procured 60,000 insecticide-treated bed nets, along with millions of doses of anti-malarial drugs. UNICEF also distributed more than 4 million vitamin A supplements.
The rehabilitation of over 500 boreholes provided safe drinking water to 63,000 people in nine rural districts. UNICEF also helped develop a new national water and sanitation policy.