The Herald (Harare)

6 September 2011

Zimbabwe: Govt Bigwigs Spreading HIV - President

PRESIDENT Mugabe has castigated some Government officials for contributing to the spread of HIV and Aids through promiscuity.

Officially opening Zimbabwe's second National HIV and Aids conference yesterday, the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said efforts should be taken to stop mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

"The role of men in society is unquestionable.

"It is for this reason that men should take their place in the HIV response, both for their own health as well as in support of women and children . . . and it is not just treatment, but also a fact of discipline.

"It is discipline in a custom that recognises that men are free to have as many wives as possible ... maybe this is the custom that lies behind the fact that our men are not satisfied with one woman even if they know that they are HIV-positive.

"I know of cases of men, who even though they are taking ARVs are running from one woman to the other.

"These are not men I know because of my extended family, but because of my being Head of Government.

"Zvinotonyadzisa, hameno kuti tinonyarira kupi. But let's keep preaching the gospel . . . the gospel against HIV," he said.

The President said the theme of the conference, "Elimination of New HIV Infections in Children, Keeping Mothers Alive" was aligned to the global plan that was adopted at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Aids in New York in June.

"Mother to Child transmission of HIV is a global injustice that can be prevented, thanks to the work of our dedicated practitioners all over the world.

"The large numbers of HIV infected children should really be a shocking reminder to all that there is need for intensified action comprising effective measures that will propel us towards having an HIV-free generation," President Mugabe said.

He said statistics from developed countries showed that reduction of mother-to-child transmission to rates as low as two percent was achievable.

"This has been achieved through the use of interventions that include primary prevention of HIV, provision of ARV medicines from the mother's own health and for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, safe use of delivery practices and replacement feeding.

"Such low rates of mother-to-child transmission are also possible in developing countries and have been reported by other neighbouring countries such as Botswana, giving us hope that Zimbabwe can also attain this milestone," President Mugabe said.

He said the HIV and Aids pandemic had not spared anyone and he had also lost a number of relatives to the disease.

The President said he was looking after widows and children left behind by deceased members of his extended family.

He said Zimbabwe had adopted the provider initiated HIV testing approach as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

"This has increased access to HIV testing and counselling for our people as an entry point to prevention of mother-to-child transmission and all other services and treatment.

"In order to access these PMTCT services, it is critical that all pregnant women access antenatal care and HIV testing and counselling.

"Indeed, it would even be more preferable if all couples knew their HIV status before making decisions on children," he said.

The President said Zimbabwe had done well in the fight against the disease as indicated by the decline in the HIV prevalence rate.

"Through our unrelenting focus on prevention of new infections and improving access to HIV care, treatment and support services, Zimbabwe has managed to significantly reduce HIV prevalence from as high as 26,5 percent in 1997 to 14,3 percent in 2009 amongst adults between 15 and 49 years of age. Further, the HIV sero-prevalence among pregnant women decreased from 20,1 percent to 16,1 percent by the end of 2009," he said.

President Mugabe said Zimbabwe had about 650 000 adults and children living with HIV who were in need of treatment.

Approximately, 400 000 people are on ARV treatment and of these, only 23 000 are children.

The President bemoaned the low uptake of ARV treatment among men and encouraged circumcision as way to curb the spread of the disease.

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