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Zimbabwe’s HIV infection rate falls, but much still to be done

HARARE, 11 October, 2005 – Zimbabwe’s HIV rate has fallen, making it the first country in Southern Africa – the epicenter of the global epidemic – to show a decline.

An epidemiological 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.

“On the 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 deaths.”

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 reduction. Furthermore, 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. 

Nonetheless, 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.

“There 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.

“Four out 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 levels.”

With additional 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. But without substantial support, the current positive trends will not be sustainable.

For further information, please  contact:

James Elder, UNICEF Zimbabwe, (263) 91 276120, jelder@unicef.org

UNICEF Zimbabwe, (263) 91943915, tsingizi@unicef.org




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