Zimbabwe: Drug-Shunning Patients Could Derail Zimbabwe's Aids Plan

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Edmore Mutimodyo, advocacy and communications officer for the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (ZNNP), says sensitisation campaigns are being conducted by various interest groups and government departments to help people better understand the benefits of anti retroviral therapy and how to take the drugs on a healthy diet.

"Before taking ARVs, you go through a process of understanding how they work, possible side effects. Also you have to pass an adherence procedure. If you [are] likely to default, they will ask you to bring a treatment buddy to help you through the process," he said.

Health officials at Mpilo Hospital say patients cannot be forced to take their medication whatever their reasons.

Other people living with HIV fail to access ARVs because of the long waiting list coupled with lack of funding for these drugs, according to the Ministry of Health and the ZNNP+.

Zimbabwe's ARV programme is supported by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which NAC says has disbursed 21.8 million dollars for the 2014 rollout. More patients are expected to access ARVs once local manufacturing of drugs, in partnership with Iran, begins as announced by the health ministry in October this year.

Despite this, adherence will continue to be a problem as long as attitudes such as Buzwani's or the health workers' method of distributing ARVs at public health facilities - which is said to contribute to real or perceived stigma - are not addressed.

"Some nurses we spoke to did say that there were people who stopped taking ARVs because of side effects or because of stigma: they didn't want to be seen taking a pill everyday," said Kerry Scott, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, who has worked in Zimbabwe before.

Patients like Buzwani who are abandoning their medication may be an exception, but could still point to difficulties that lie ahead in the country's fight to reduce AIDS-related deaths.

*Not his real name.

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