Harare — ZIMBABWE'S HIV/Aids prevalence rate has declined from 18,1 percent to 15,6 percent over the past four years, continuing the trend that saw the figure falling from 26,5 percent in 2001 to 18,1 percent in 2003.
The lower rate is a reflection of the unrelenting campaign by the Government and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the dangers of HIV and take active steps to reduce the risk of infection.
But Zimbabweans have also been warned that the lower rate is still unacceptably high and there can be no let-up in the battle to reduce risky behaviour and protect children born to infected parents.
An estimated 1 320 739 people are living with HIV and Aids, 651 402 of them women and 132 938 being children under 14 years old who probably contracted the virus from their mothers at birth.
According to the new statistics, one in seven Zimbabweans is now HIV positive, a sharp drop from the previous ratio of one in four when infection rates were at their height in the 1990s.
Announcing the new HIV statistics for the three-year period in Harare yesterday, the head of the Aids and TB Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Owen Mugurungi, attributed the decrease to tireless efforts by the Government in combating HIV and Aids.
"We take cognisance of our efforts attained in the anti-retroviral rollout programme for the decline in the prevalence rate. If we take out the impact of ARVs, the prevalence rate could have been 15,3 percent," Dr Mugurungi said.
The rate of HIV infection (incidence rate) is estimated to be 0,4 percent while the number of people dying weekly due to Aids and related illnesses has also declined to 2 214 from 2 500.
"This is the first time again that the incidence has been recorded below 1 percent," said Dr Mugurungi.
Of the estimated 1,3 million people living with HIV and Aids, 260 000 are in urgent need of ARVs while 86 000 are currently on anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
Although there has been an increase in the number of women accessing HIV testing and counselling services, there is a big gap between those tested and those receiving Nevirapine -- which reduces mother-to-child transmission -- when giving birth.
The number of HIV infections in children has, however, increased from 125 161 in 2003 to 132 938 this year.
This, according to Dr Mugurungi, is attributed to the survival of children on cotrimoxazole, an effective antibiotic in alleviating HIV, and ART.
In 2007, an estimated 12 448 chil-
dren died from Aids and related illnesses, a sharp decrease from 25 418 deaths in 2000.
Of the estimated 194 269 children needing cotrimoxazole this year, only 18 475 are accessing the drug while of the 24 194 children requiring ART, only 7 000 are on the programme.
An estimated 975 956 children are now considered orphaned due to Aids and related illnesses this year, another decrease from last year's total of 1 008 542.
Officially launching the Zimbabwe National HIV and Aids Estimates for 2007, the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa, applauded the decline but pointed out that the 15,6 percent prevalence rate was still high.
"There has been a significant drop from the previous prevalence rate but it is still very high. While we welcome it, we should caution ourselves that this is still an alarming figure that we must address," he said.
The new statistics had been validated by various non-governmental organisations such as the Centre for Disease Control Atlanta, Imperial College London, and United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organisation.
"In terms of validity, they (the new statistics) are acceptable. Experts have looked at them thoroughly and agreed that these are the figures," Dr Parirenyatwa said.
He urged organisations dealing with HIV and Aids to continue scaling up interventions on behaviour change among youths and adults.
The 2007 estimates were compiled using antenatal clinics data from 19 sites, the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) 2005-2006, national census, ART, the Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission Programme as well as testing and counselling data.
Dr Parirenyatwa launched the ZDHS 2005-2006 document and the National Survey of HIV and Syphilis aimed at determining prevalence among women attending antenatal clinics in Zimbabwe.