Zimbabwe’s AIDS Success Was Doubted: UNAIDS Executive Director

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe, said that no-one believed that Zimbabwe could succeed in responding to the AIDS epidemic at the inaugural GlobalPOWER Africa Women Network conference held recently in Harare, Zimbabwe.  Image

According to UNAIDS, Zimbabwe has achieved one of the sharpest declines in HIV prevalence in Southern Africa, from 27% in 1997 to just over 14% in 2010. With 10 times fewer resources for AIDS per capita than other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe has expanded coverage of antiretroviral treatment among adults, from 15% in 2007 to 80% in 2010. At the end of 2011, nearly half a million people in the country were receiving lifesaving HIV treatment and care.

“No-one was beliving that Zimbabwe could be a success story with all the difficulties the country was facing but Zimbabwe managed to demonstarte that they can reduce by 52 percent the adult infection rate during the last ten years. Zimbabwe managed to increase the number of people in need of treatment by 50 percent during only the last two years which is important for us to underline,” Sidibe said

He added that Zimbabwe was also a success story because it introduced innovative ways to mobilize internal resources. Zimbabwe’s AIDS Levy, a tax on income to increase domestic resources for the national HIV programme has enabled the country to diversify its domestic funding for its AIDS response, raising an estimated US$ 26 million in 2011. This year the levy is expected to raise US$ 30 million.

However, the majority of people on antiretroviral drugs continue to be supported by the donor community: 76 percent of the 347 172 people on treatment are supported by donor funding.

“In general, any data, you put out is questioned. When we mentioned in our report for the first time that Zimbabwe was making progress, they were reducing the number of new infections and increasing the number of people on treatment, death was going down, people questioned us how that could happen. Many aspects about the country pointded otherwise,” he said.

He said that question surrounding the fact that the country was undergoing serious economic problems made people question the results.

“We asked the one of the best institutes in the world, Imperial College, to come and validate our data. They did all the epidieological analysis and caem up with the validation of the dats. Any place where HIV has success response record, its about leadership at all levels. Secondly, what happeend in Zimbabwe is change in behaviour.

He said that the AIDS levy had played a key part in the Zimbabwean AIDS response, and UNAIDS used it as best practice in raising locals resources for the AIDS response.

“Today, its only 13 percent of the formal sector paying for the levy. We could really look at the informal sector, it will even bring more resources. Zimbabwe’ efforts during the last two years to increase treatment in the past two years is one of the best practices,” he said.

“The Zimbabwe AIDS Levy is an excellent example that demonstrates to other African countries how to generate domestic resources to maintain and own their national AIDS responses. I encourage the Government of Zimbabwe to explore how this initiative could be expanded to tap into the informal sector to boost the resources of the trust fund.”

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GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa Conference Opens in Harare

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwashs | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Women parliamentarians, leading African women entrepreneurs, civil society leaders, and development partners from Africa are meeting in Harare over the next two days for the inauguration and launch of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa.

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The conference, being attended by approximately 300 participants, is aimed at providing a strategic political platform to accelerate game changing approaches to HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights responses for women and girls. The idea to create an Africa-specific GlobalPOWER Women Network stemmed fom a September 2010 meeting in Washington DC that saw prominent female decision makers come together alongside their US peers to discuss how to accelerate the implementation of the UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls.

Participants at the conference are expected to address the key issues affecting girls and women in Africa including eliminating new HIV infections among children, keeping mothers alive and maternal and child health. The meeting will result in the “Harare Call to Action” to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality through HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights responses.

President of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa and Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe said that women must take an active role in ensuring their empowerment.

“To achieve the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, it is critical to recognise women and girls as key agents in making this vision a reality – society has to invest in the health of women and girls,” Khupe said.

Addressing the conference, Zimbabwe President Robert Gabrial Mugabe said the launch of the network will take the issue of women’s emancipation and empowerment a step further.

Äfter the launch, the real work will begin and call for the same passion, unity of purpose and consistency in pursuing the goals which have characterized this Women’s Network thus far. Of particular note will be the challenge of giving unstinting support to women candidates of every hue and cry; of varying professional qualifications, driven by different talents and capabilities to realise their potential in the collaborative work of Global Power Women Network, the Africa Union and UNAIDS,”said Mugabe.

In Africa, women and girls carry a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic – they constitute 59 percent of all people living with the disease. To make matters worse, gender inequality compounded by gender-based vioence, increase women and girl’s risk of HIV infection.

Ëmpowering women and girls to protect themselves against HIV infection and gender-based violence is a non-negotiable in the AIDS response,”said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe.