5 September 2009

Zimbabwe: U.S. Committed to Revamping Health Service Delivery

UNITED States President Barack Obama's top envoy responsible for the global response to Aids says his government remains committed to revamping Zimbabwe's health care.

Eric Goosby (pictured), the Global Aids co-ordinator for the US president's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) who arrived in the country last week told journalists on Wednesday, the US was concerned about the impact of HIV/AIDS on ordinary Zimbabweans.

He said years of economic collapse before the formation of the inclusive government in February had seen Aids becoming a social problem that required urgent intervention.

"The population has been so riddled with the impact of HIV that it has (necessitated) both a medical as well as a civil response," Goosby said.

"The number of orphans who have been created by HIV has been extraordinary, 1.2 million in Zimbabwe.

The population has also had to respond with the convergence of the economic decline as well as the ravages of cholera during the last summer season."

Goosby said the success of HIV and Aids programmes depended on "rejuvenating Zimbabwe's health sector and supporting efforts to increase service delivery capacity and create sustainable health care systems".

He added: "I'm optimistic that we will be able to use the talent and experience of our in-country PEPFAR team and their knowledge of the situation on the ground to develop a response that fits the existing health infrastructure, supports it and reinforces it in a way that creates a durable and lasting response.

"I have seen fatigue in health care delivery in the country. A fatigue that has come out of sustaining the response (to HIV and Aids) with diminishing resources but at the same time a feeling of hope and anticipation that they have hit bottom and are now on the return."

During his visit, Goosby toured several PEPFAR-supported initiatives.

They include the Opportunistic Infections Clinic at Parirenyatwa Hospital, which initiates treatment and follow up programmes on HIV-positive clients on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART).

PEPFAR provides antiretroviral drugs for 40 000 out of 155 000 people depending on the ART nationally.

It also supports the delivery system that caters for all the patients on ART.

The envoy also visited the male circumcision site at the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council offices at Harare Hospital, which also receives funding from PEPFAR and technical support from USAid partner Population Services International (PSI).

Goosby who also oversees the US government's engagement with the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said through partnerships with government and civil society, PEPFAR funds would improve the lives of HIV-positive Zimbabweans.

"We are anxious to engage with ministries at both the national, provincial and district levels to develop these systems of care that allow for the movement of patients into the system and for those that need more specialised care," he said.

He said Zimbabwe was in a better position to rejuvenate its health delivery system because it was coming "out of a legacy of an extraordinary, proud and effective, world class medical delivery system and is ahead of many other countries in Africa."

Through PEPFAR, the United States government is the leading provider of HIV and Aids assistance to Zimbabwe.

Between 2004 and 2008, the US government provided nearly US$109 million to Zimbabwe to support comprehensive HIV and Aids prevention, treatment and care programmes.

There are at least 1.7 million people living with HIV in Zimbabwe, according to UNAIDS.

PEPFAR was launched in 2003 to combat global HIV and Aids.

Working in partnership with host nations for 10 years, PEPFAR plans to support treatment for at least three million people.

It also aims to provide care for 12 million people, including five million orphans and vulnerable children worldwide, according to USAid.

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