The opening session of Zimbabwe's first national conference on HIV-AIDS dealt with treatment and care of patients.

On day one of the four-day conference the delegates discussed care for those with HIV and AIDS. Topics covered include nutrition, home-based care, and anti-retroviral therapy.

The health ministry's recently launched anti-retroviral program has still not been implemented in all parts of the country. Under the plan, people who do not have the money for drugs can get free treatment, while those who can pay must do so.

Experts at the conference hope the launching of the country's first locally manufactured generic drugs should enable more Zimbabweans to take advantage of the treatment, because it has led to a reduction of the cost of the drugs. A ministry of health spokesperson said there are now about 5000 Zimbabweans on anti-retroviral drugs.

Dr. Panganai Dhliwayo, a member of the conference organization committee, said it now costs less than $30 for a month's supply of the triple therapy cocktail. This might still be beyond the reach of the majority of Zimbabweans because the country is experiencing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. More than 75 percent of the population is unemployed.

A delegate to the conference, Dr. Phineas Makurira, said poverty and malnutrition severely undermine Zimbabwe's battle against HIV and AIDS.

During the past three years, Zimbabwe experienced serious food shortages. These were caused by successive droughts and the chaotic land reform that saw thousands of white-owned commercial farms handed over to landless blacks who did not have the skills or resources to maintain production.

Zimbabwe's first HIV case was identified in 1985. Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV prevalence?s in the world. A national HIV-AIDS estimate puts the figures of those infected at 25 percent of a population of 11.6 million. More than 3000 deaths a week are attributed to AIDS.

President Robert Mugabe is to address the conference on Wednesday.