Zimbabwe’s HIV infection rate continues to fall
New data shows that Zimbabwe’s HIV rate continues to drop, giving it one of the most significant and rapid declines of any country in the world.
The overall HIV prevalence among antenatal clinic attendees (pregnant women) decreased from 25.7per cent in 2002 to 21.3per cent (2004) and now to 17.7per cent in 2006. Based on this, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and international experts today published the new estimate of the HIV sero-prevalence rate among Zimbabwe’s adult population to be 15.6per cent.
The new data reinforces Zimbabwe’s successes in behaviour change among young people. The biggest falls among pregnant women were recorded among the 15-24 year age group, showing a drop in HIV from 20.8 percent to 13.1 percent in just four years (2002 to 2006).
“Young people are having fewer partners and using more condoms,” said UNFPA’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Bruce Campbell. “They have heard the messages, taken action, and are being safer. Now we must continue our combined efforts to ensure national HIV prevention programmes have an even greater reach.”
Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to develop a comprehensive epidemiological review which resulted in an evidence-based behaviour change strategy. Promotion of partner reduction and consistent condom use remain at the core of the strategy.
Under the leadership of the National AIDS Council, and with critical financial donor support, UNICEF and UNFPA have enlarged their behaviour change programmes for young people both within and out of the school context. With additional funding they will continue to broaden these programmes, in particular around girl empowerment, teacher training, youth education through sports, and training more peer educators.
The United Nations in Zimbabwe said that today’s announcement underscores the need to strive for continued broad behaviour change promotion and universal access to quality HIV prevention, as well as adolescent sexual and reproductive health services. Without ongoing and substantial support, the current positive national trends will not be sustainable.
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.
“It is imperative that all partners adhere closely to the concept of ‘three Ones’,” said Country Director of UNAIDS, Dr Kwame Ampomah. “One of our greatest achievements over the last few years has been a truly collaborative and concerted effort to ensure that all partners support the National AIDS Strategic Plan (ZNASP), and that there is only one national coordination mechanism led by the National AIDS Council, and only one comprehensive and integrated Monitoring and Evaluation System.”
Said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe: “Zimbabweans have again shown that they have the determination and the education to defeat HIV/AIDS, and a variety of causes of child mortality. However, mortality also played a hand in the drop and there remains an urgent need to boost prevention and treatment programmes in Zimbabwe.”
Currently around two-thirds of people who need treatment are not receiving it, and so without a significant additional injection of funds, universal access will not be attained. Moreover, while there has been an increase in geographical expansion of prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services in Zimbabwe, much more needs to be done for successful scaling-up of programmes. There are an estimated 98,000 HIV positive pregnant women in need of PMTCT services, far more that the 8500 who received them in 2006.
“There is no doubt that a drop in the rate is great news,” said WHO Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Mandlhate. “However let us recognize that a sero-prevalence rate of 15.6per cent remains high and this is not the moment for relaxing. Rather we must take advantage of this positive action by youth and put even greater energy and resources. The United Nations family reiterates its commitment to supporting Government efforts towards the achievement of universal access of HIV prevention, treatment care and protection for those living with HIV and their families.”
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