Incidences of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are rife among students at various universities and tertiary institutions around the country, an investigation by The Standard has revealed.
The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that government has not been able to offer student grants for several years.
Students and staff at various institutions who spoke to The Standard last week confirmed that their colleagues were engaging in sexual activities to earn a living with the majority of them not using any form of protection.
They said most parents cannot pay the fees which range from US$600 to US$900 per semester, driving students to engage in unsafe sexual escapades in exchange for money.
Some students at Harare Polytechnic last week called on the government to re-introduce payouts to alleviate poverty among students.
"Our fees are US$296, depending on the programme but there is an additional fee for accommodation which is almost US$200. We only have meat in the evening, but our lunch is either badly cooked cabbages or beans. Breakfast is not appealing either and that is why some of our mates are running around with these sugar daddies because they offer alternatives," said a female student from the business department.
Another female student, who only identified herself as Chelsea, said it was sad that some students were risking their future for a US$3 meal at food outlets in town.
"For some students, they would rather sleep with an older guy without protection so that their daily needs are met," she said.
Donald Chiuta, a University of Zimbabwe student, also urged the government to give grants to students from poor backgrounds to discourage them from embarking on risk behaviour.
"My sisters are really into prostitution. It is no longer an eye brow-raising issue because most of them are doing it. Some genuinely need the money for fees, but there are those who just want to have fun, want the good things in life," he said. "My mates [males] are also engaging in this business, but for most it's for fun and experience. They hire commercial sex workers but the danger lies in the fact that many will be drunk and may not always use a condom."
Former Minister of Finance Tendai Biti allocated US$64 million for the nine state universities, eight polytechnics, 13 primary school teacher training and four secondary teacher training colleges in the 2013 national budget.
However, by May this year, only US$750 000 had been released. Of the 54 735 students who qualified to receive tuition support in this academic year, only 10 000 had their fees paid.
Giving evidence before a parliamentary committee, Director for University Education in the ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education Martha Muguti, said the lack of funding had been "devastating" to the quality of learning.
A Chinhoyi University of Technology a nurse, who declined to be named, said STIs topped the list of diseases they treat at the institution.
"Many students that we treat have an STI of some sort. I cannot give you figures, but I assure you it is not good," she said.
What was peculiar, she said, was that most of the cases were repeat infections, which meant the same people were constantly being re-infected.
"Such a total disregard for life for people so young is heart-breaking," she said.
At least 10 000 people in Masvingo province had contracted STIs within three months this year, and there were strong suggestions that students at tertiary institutions in the resort town accounted for a higher percentage of the patients.
National Aids Council (NAC) Masvingo provincial Aids coordinator, Evos Makoni said a study would be carried out at the health institutions and clinics located in the vicinity of universities and colleges.
There are reports that Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) students residing at Mashava campus are engaging in sexual activities with local gold panners in the area.
GUZ vice-chancellor, Rungano Zvobgo said they would erect a perimeter fence around the Mashava campus hostels to shield students from opportunists.
A female student from Midlands State University (MSU) said shortage of accommodation at the institution forced many students to engage in unsafe sexual behaviour to raise money for rentals.
With an enrollment of over 17 000 students, MSU cannot accommodate half of its students.
Landlords in Gweru are capitalising on the hapless students whom they charge an average of US$70 per head per month.
"Five students can squat in one room with each paying around US$70-US$80 per month. Besides the rent, there are issues of food and day-to-day expenses which many of us cannot afford," one student said.
A 2011 study carried out by representatives from Bindura University of Science Education (Buse) revealed that of the sampled group of respondents, 96% were sexually active and of this 60-65% had more than one partner.
The majority of the sampled group also believed students were at risk of contracting HIV and Aids.
An equally large portion of them also said female students were going out with sugar daddies for fun and financial gain.