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Zimbabwe Dismisses Human Rights Watch Report on HIV/AIDS


The Zimbabwe government dismisses a Human Rights Watch report accusing the government of policies that worsened the plight of those affected by HIV and AIDS as inaccurate.

Health minister David Parirenyatwa is quoted in the state-controlled daily The Herald as saying he did not want to waste time on the Human Rights Watch report which in his words was "obviously compiled by someone who never took time to go around looking for information."

The report, No Bright Future: Government Failures, Human Rights Abuses and Squandered Progress in the Fight Against AIDS in Zimbabwe, alleges abusive policies and practices by the government are fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, increasing vulnerability to infection, and obstructing access to treatment.

The report gave the example of last year's forced evictions, which it says disrupted access to treatment and healthcare for many people living with HIV. It noted that hundreds of people living with HIV continue to live in appalling conditions, without shelter or in overcrowded houses. As a result many are left more prone to opportunistic infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

The evictions, which the government called "Operation Drive Out the Filth," also interfered with HIV-prevention efforts the report says. During the blitz on unauthorized housing in urban areas, police destroyed nearly 2,000 outlets dispensing condoms. Human Rights Watch blames the ongoing crackdown on the informal sector for depriving people of their only source of income in an environment of high unemployment. This, it says, increases the risk of HIV infection for thousands, and further endangers the lives of those already infected.

Parirenyatwa defended the evictions saying the building exercise which followed was meant to ensure people had access to decent shelter and clean water. But a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, said while the government has built some houses, they are not enough. He said more than a year after the evictions; most of the victims are living in shacks while others were forced to occupy houses without doors, windows, floors or running water.

The spokesman agreed with the report on the issue of people who were on antiretroviral therapy had their treatment disrupted by the evictions. Also, he said, as a result of losing shelter and livelihoods, some women expose them to infection by engaging in commercial sex. He however said while the government has the will to deal with the pandemic, the money to carry out programs is just not there.

Parirenyatwa said instead of criticizing on the basis of a sample of 129 respondents, the report should highlight the good that has been done such as the drop in HIV prevalence. Despite the decline in infection rates from 25 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2004, Zimbabwe still has one of the highest HIV infection rates in theworld.

The minister welcomed the report's recommendation to the international community to assist Zimbabwe in its fight against the pandemic.

Human rights watch says it was unable to secure meetings with Zimbabwe ministry of health officials.