HARARE – Zimbabwe's HIV prevalence rate has increased to 15 percent from 14,26 percent in 2011, amid fears gains made so far could go to waste given the rising poverty levels pushing more and more people into prostitution to make ends meet.
According to statistics from National Aids Council (Nac), the total number of people infected by the virus has increased by 0,74 percent.
At least 1,2 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV, but the figures could be higher as most men are shunning testing and counselling centres.
In 2011, Zimbabwe had recorded a decline in HIV prevalence rate to 13,7 percent down from 18 percent in 2003 which represented over 1,6 million Zimbabweans above the age of 15 being positive.
Sinatra Nyathi, Bulawayo provincial Aids coordinator told a workshop held for Bulawayo City Council (BCC) councillors this week that early marriages; spousal separation and low risk perception were the major drivers of the swell and compounding efforts to eradicate HIV and Aids.
The pandemic has devastated southern parts of the country, pointedly Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.
Matabeleland South and North have 21 percent, Bulawayo 19 percent, Harare 13 percent while Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Masvingo have 14 percent each.
The huge figures in Matabeleland have been attributed to spousal separation as a result of people crossing the border to neighbouring countries such as Botswana and South Africa in search of jobs.
“Our prevalence rate is slightly up from the 14,3 percent recorded last year and this is an indicator that we still have barriers in our community,” Nyathi told a two-day comprehensive condom promotion workshop for Bulawayo councillors last Thursday.
With unemployment and general economic hardship still predominant in Zimbabwe and more companies closing down forcing divorces, experts say the situation could worsen as teenagers would turn into prostitution for survival.
Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate currently stands at 85 percent and productivity capacity in most industries has dropped from 45 percent to 30, leading to many companies closing down.
Since unemployment and economic hardships are some of the key drivers of the scourge, then gains made since 2001, when the country battled to reduce the prevalence rate from 21,5 percent to 13 percent, could be reversed.
According to Nac, an estimated 657 000 are on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) out of the estimated 1,2 million affected people.
Nyathi said, there seemed to be a low uptake of condoms to curb the spread of HIV while a reluctance to deal with multiple relationships was contributing to the fuelling of the spread of the virus.
“We distributed a lot of condoms last year but it is still sad because there is still a low uptake of the female condom designed to complement the male condom,” she said.
Zimbabwe countrywide recorded over 45,621 HIV-related deaths in 2012, forcing government to come up with a theme for 2013 as “Zero new infections, zero HIV and Aids-related deaths and zero stigmatisation”.
Amon Mpofu, monitoring and evaluation director, recently revealed that more men were dying of HIV compared to women although more women are infected by the disease.
Mpofu attributed this to delay by men to visit health institutions, inconsistent treatment uptake due to excessive alcohol consumption and smoking among other reasons.
Statistics from the Nac, about 207 765 females are on anti-retroviral drugs against 118 476 males.