Masvingo — Over 10 000 people in Masvingo province have contracted sexually transmitted infections within three months from April to June this year.
The high incidence of STIs comes in the wake of fears that students at tertiary institutions in the province were among the hardest hit as an undisclosed high number of students resort to prostitution to make ends meet. Among the most common STIs recorded in the province was chancroid, gonorrhoea, syphilis and herpes simplex.
Figures released by the National Aids Council yesterday showed that Masvingo recorded 10 110 STIs cases during the latest survey that was done from April to June this year.
Masvingo provincial Aids co-ordinator Mr Evos Makoni said out of the 10 110 recorded cases 6 409 were females while 3 701 cases were men.
Mr Makoni said Chiredzi and Gutu districts had the highest number of recorded cases.
"From the figures that we have, Masvingo has the highest density of STIs in Zimbabwe with 10 110 cases having been recorded from April to June this year and the most common ones have been syphilis, chancroid and gonorrhoea.
Mr Makoni said investigations were underway to establish the reason behind the high number of STI cases in the province, adding preliminary indications were that the STIs were being brought in from countries such as South Africa where most people were trekking to regularly in search of jobs.
Mr Makoni said it was difficult to prove whether there were high STIs cases at universities and colleges in the province as most students would not come out in the open when they are infected.
He added that they would soon commission a study to observe the trend of reported STI cases at health institutions and clinics located in the vicinity of universities and colleges to find whether there was any link between the upsurge and the time when these institutions would be open.
There have been reports of an increase in STI cases at tertiary institutions such as the Great Zimbabwe University where scores of students at the institution's Mashava campus have fallen victim to STIs.
It is believed that students at GZU and other tertiary institutions such as Masvingo Polytechnic and Teachers' College, Bondolfi Teachers' and Morgenster Teachers' colleges were venturing into prostitution as a way of survival in the prevailing harsh economic environment.
At GZU's Mashava campus vulnerable students are believed to be falling prey to illegal gold panners who are using money as a bait to sleep with them and infecting them with STIs in the process. GZU vice chancellor Professor Rungano Zvobgo said while his institution has put in place measures to regularly teach students on the dangers of indulging in unprotected sex there was a likelihood that some students were falling prey to illegal gold panners who roam around the mining town of Mashava.
"It is a fact that wherever there is a group of youths who are staying together, they naturally engage in sexual activities and we have been trying hard as a university to educate them on the dangers of indulging in unprotected sex.
"As for our students at Mashava campus it is true that many of them might fall prey to illegal gold diggers who can use money to bait and sleep with them but we will always continue to educate them on the dangers of indulging in sex, let alone unprotected sex.
"We, however, do not have figures of how many students contracted STIs during what period but we have a clinic that dispenses STIs drugs which is run by competent nursing staff," he added.
Professor Zvobgo revealed that the university would speedily move to install a perimeter fence around the Mashava campus hostels to prevent easy access to students' areas of residence by outsiders.
Masvingo provincial medical director Dr Robert Mudyiradima said that the high number of STIs cases in Masvingo was worrying but said hospitals and clinics in the province had adequate stocks of drugs to deal with the scourge.
Dr Mudyiradima, however, said the responsibility to combat the STIs prevalence lay with the NAC which, he said, was mandated to strategise on ways too fight the scourge of sexually transmitted infections and HIV and Aids.