Zimbabwean Government Policies Hindering HIV/AIDS Efforts, Increasing Risk of Infection, HRW Report Says
The Zimbabwean government is weakening efforts to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, according to a report released Friday by Human Rights Watch, SAPA/Business Day reports. According to Joe Amon, director of HRW's HIV/AIDS program, up to 1.6 million HIV-positive people live in Zimbabwe and about 25,000 of the 350,000 people in immediate need of antiretroviral drugs have access to them. "Zimbabwe is still battling a serious HIV/AIDS crisis," despite a reduction in HIV prevalence from 25% to 20% between 2000 and 2005, Amon said. The Zimbabwean government -- which currently provides antiretrovirals to 25,000 HIV-positive people -- recently promised to increase that number to 70,000, SAPA/Business Day reports. However, thousands of people have not been treated because the government has not provided information about antiretroviral therapy policies, according to SAPA/Business Day. "Zimbabwe has been hailed as a 'success story' in the fight against AIDS. But abusive government policies are blocking treatment for those who desperately need it and making even more people vulnerable to infection," Amon said. According to the report, government eviction programs have restricted access to antiretrovirals and medical services for many HIV-positive people, hundreds of whom are living in crowded homes or are homeless, leaving them prone to opportunistic infections including tuberculosis and pneumonia (SAPA/Business Day, 7/28). President Robert Mugabe's urban evictions campaign, called "Operation Murambatsvina," which means "drive out the filth," in 2005 forced many HIV-positive shantytown residents into the countryside, where there is little access to antiretroviral treatment (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/11). "The evictions also interfered with HIV-prevention efforts; for example, police destroyed nearly 2,000 outlets providing condoms in the urban townships during the evictions," the report says. According to the report, the government's "crackdown on the informal sector has also destroyed peoples' livelihoods, increasing the risk of HIV infection for thousands and further endangering the lives of those already infected." The report called on the international community to increase funding to programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, SAPA/Business Day reports (SAPA/Business Day, 7/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.