ZIMBABWE: Govt policies hampering AIDS efforts

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns in a new report that the Zimbabwean government's policies might be reversing gains made against HIV/AIDS. Formerly a high-prevalence country, Zimbabwe became the first Southern African nation to record a significant decline in HIV infection, from about 25 percent in 2003 to 20 percent in 2005. The report said "the Zimbabwean government's [Operation Murambatsvina, or 'Clean Out Garbage'] programme of evictions is disrupting access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and healthcare for many people living with HIV." An estimated 700,000 people were affected by the purge aimed at the informal economy launched last year. HRW charged that only 25,000 of some 350,000 people needing the drugs had been accessing them since 2004, when the government's free rollout programme was launched. However, Zimbabwe's Minister of Health and Child Welfare, David Parirenyatwa, told PlusNews the report had all the trademarks of "desk-top research", as the ARV access number was off by 11,000 people. "We have made considerable strides against this pandemic, considering the current economic situation of the nation, but instead of highlighting our successes, HRW has chosen to criticise us." The Minister confirmed that the government planned to have 70,000 people on ARVs by the end of this year, after the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria released US$60 million to Zimbabwe. Some US$105 million had been withheld by the Fund since October 2005 over "a few outstanding issues" on how the money would be spent, leading officials and some NGOs to believe the delay might also have been motivated by current government policies. "Although it took some time, the Global Fund money will definitely help us strengthen our HIV/AIDS programme. Our greatest obstacle in rolling out ARVs has been a lack of resources after sanctions were imposed by some of our partners," Parirenyatwa noted. Most Western donors froze aid to Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe's controversial fast-track land reform programme began in 2000, followed by reports of violence and intimidation during the 2000 and 2002 elections. The ensuing economic climate has had far-reaching consequences, with local drug suppliers announcing in May that anti-AIDS drugs were currently in short supply because of the lack of foreign currency to purchase them. "What we need now is for organisations, such as HRW, to focus their energy on helping us lobby for more resources," the Minister said. HRW officials have confirmed that they were lobbying international communities for increased funding for HIV/AIDS programmes, provided the government upheld the rights of its citizens, especially women, who were already more affected by AIDS than men and particularly hard-hit by the government crackdown on the informal economy. "Unable to sell produce or clothing by the side of the road, and unable to find a means to support themselves or their families, many are forced to engage in high-risk behaviours, including commercial sex work, in order to survive," HRW's report pointed out. Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS programme at HRW, said in a statement: "The Zimbabwean government must recognise the incendiary effect of human rights abuses on the epidemic. Unless President Mugabe puts an end to these abuses, tens of thousands more people will become infected, and the gains it has achieved in the fight against AIDS will amount to nothing." Official figures showed that 1.6 million of Zimbabwe's estimated 12 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. Access the complete HRW report:

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Other OCHA Sites
United Nations - OCHA
DFID - UK Department for International Development
Irish Aid
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation - SDC