Fear of HIV, Associated Stigma Hampers Zimbabwe’s Efforts to Lower Infant Mortality Rate
Fear of the social consequences of testing positive for HIV is "threatening to undermine" efforts in Zimbabwe to reduce infant mortality rates, according to a health ministry official, Agence France-Presse reports. Inam Chitsike, head of the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare's Mother to Child Transmission Prevention Unit, said that although 90% of pregnant women agree to be tested for HIV during a prenatal visit, many women do not return to or call the clinic to learn their test results. According to Chitsike, many women fail to learn their results because they are "too frightened" of the reaction they might receive from spouses or their community if it is learned that they tested positive for HIV. Thirty percent to 35% of pregnant women in Zimbabwe are HIV-positive, and 25% to 35% of infants born to those women acquire the virus, according to official figures. Approximately 70% of mother-to-child HIV transmission occurs during pregnancy or delivery, Chitsike said. Thirty-six hospitals nationwide offer the drug nevirapine free of charge to HIV-positive pregnant women in order to "drastically" reduce the likelihood that the woman will transmit HIV to her infant during pregnancy or delivery, and the health ministry aims to offer nevirapine at all clinics and hospitals in Zimbabwe by early next year in the hopes that "widespread use" of the drug could reduce AIDS-related mortalities among children under age five, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 10/3).
HIV Infections Among Children
In related news, more than 50% of new HIV infections in Zimbabwe occur among young people under age 18, according to the Zimbabwe National AIDS Council, the Harare Herald/AllAfrica.com reports. Addressing a group of the nation's church leaders, Dr. Everisto Marowa, executive director of ZNAC, said that the trend is "worrisome." Marowa said, "We all admit that enough has not yet been done. What is critical is that the church should join hands and work with existing structures such as those of [ZNAC]." An official with the government's AIDS and tuberculosis department also announced at the meeting that 34% of the Zimbabwean population is HIV-positive, compared to 25% two years ago (Herald/AllAfrica.com, 10/3).