1 November 2007

Zimbabwe: Government's Latest HIV/Aids Statistics Questioned

Experts on HIV/Aids issues were on Thursday questioning the authenticity of recent figures released by government which suggested that epidemic's prevalence rates were dropping.

The government on Wednesday released new statistics that showed that the HIV/Aids prevalence rate has declined from 18,1 percent to 15,6 percent over the past four years. The Ministry of Health was quick to claim the "victory" as a "reflection of the unrelenting campaign by the government".

But experts have questioned the validity of the government's surveys, given that millions of Zimbabweans are fleeing the country due to the ongoing political decay and economic meltdown. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to neighbouring South Africa in search of employment and better living conditions. Up to 2 million more are scattered around the globe.

Reports in South Africa suggest that HIV/Aids rates in that country are rising, as Zimbabwe's are supposedly dropping.

In the South African online publication Health-e, the chief director of HIV/Aids in the department of health, Dr. Nomonde Xundu, said the migrant labour system was contributing to the spread of the epidemic.

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.

Brian Nyathi, a Zimbabwean health practitioner in South Africa questioned the reliability of the government's latest figures given that so many people are leaving the country.

He said: "Many people have left Zimbabwe and the ones that are left are so struck down by poverty and the collapse of the health delivery system such that they can not access hospitals. We wonder then if these figures can be trusted."

The new statistics have however been validated by some non-governmental organisations including the Centre for Disease Control and United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organisation.

Health reporter Bertha Shoko said disparities in the figures of people needing anti-retroviral therapy had also raised eyebrows.

Shoko said that the figures were questionable because they seem to have increased when prevalence rate is falling. The survey itself only took place at a few medical institutions.

"Speculation is rife that the UN only accepted the figures for political diplomatic reasons, " she said.

According to government figures, of the estimated 1,3 million people living with HIV and Aids, 260 000 are in urgent need of anti retro viral medication, while 86 000 are currently on ARV's.

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