Zimbabwe's HIV Infection Rate Drops Five Percent
Zimbabwe's HIV Infection Rate Drops Five Percent

Zimbabwe's HIV/AIDS infection rate has dropped to just more than 13 percent, one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa to have an annual drop in new infections. The country's health service is starting to recover nine months after the unity government was sworn into power.

Zimbabwe's HIV/AIDS epidemic, which started at least 23 years ago, used to record infection rates of more than 25 percent of the population.  A demographic survey conducted in 2006 it found the infection rate had dropped to 18 percent.

Now, the health care authorities, say it has dropped nearly five percent since then and is at 13.75 percent.

Zimbabweans, health-care workers say, changed their behavior over the years.

The drop in the infection rate was announced at an event in Harare to mark the life of one of the first Zimbabweans to go public with her HIV/IDS status.  Auxillia Chimusoro died in 1998 after several years as an HIV/AIDS activist.  USAID runs an annual competition in her name to reward community workers who fight the disease.

At the ceremony, Zimbabwe Health Minister Henry Madzorera said when he was appointed in February all public hospitals were closed, most rural clinics had no drugs, and Zimbabwe was recovering from a cholera epidemic that resulted in more than 4,000 dying and 100,000 people infected.

Since the start of the cholera epidemic last year, the salaries of health-care workers and the drugs in the public-health-care system are provided by donors through UNICEF.  There is a critical shortage of doctors as many left Zimbabwe during the past 10 years of Zanu-PF rule.

"We still have a deficit in the area of doctors, but I am sure this will be a thing of the past especially if we improve conditions of service," said Henry Madzorera.

To cope with the shortage of doctors, Dr. Madzorera said his ministry embarked on a new training program for nurses since the unity government came to power.

"We are training primary care nurses, we now have an excess of primary care nurses," he said. "That means every clinic has a primary care nurse, in fact we are posting two nurses per clinic."

Zimbabwe had the best one of the best health-care systems in Africa until about 12 years ago.  Now women's life expectancy has dropped to 34 years, nearly the lowest in the world, but despite the political and economic crisis there is recovery.

"If the budget that has been allocated for next year 2010 works as intended, and we get the money as intended, I think by the end of 2010 our health-care services will be reasonably normal, not exactly where we were 10 years ago, but very reasonably normal," said Madzorera.

Despite the good news, there are 900,000 children in Zimbabwe orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and only half those who need anti-retroviral drugs to fight the disease receive them.