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HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe


Recent estimates from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) indicate that approximately 1.6 million adults 15 years and older were living with HIV/AIDS in 2005. Despite the severity of the epidemic, prevalence rates in Zimbabwe have begun to show signs of decline, from 22.1 percent prevalence among adults ages 15 to 19 in 2003 to 20.1 percent prevalence in the same age group in 2005. Dr. Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, said that in Zimbabwe, “The declines in HIV rates have been due to changes in behaviour, including increased use of condoms, people delaying the first time they have sexual intercourse, and people having fewer sexual partners.”

Zimbabwe has a generalized HIV/AIDS epidemic with HIV transmitted primarily through heterosexual contact and mother-to-child transmission. High risk groups, including migrant laborers, people in prostitution, girls involved in intergenerational sexual relationships, discordant couples, and members of the uniformed services warrant special attention in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Young adults and women are hardest hit by the epidemic. In 2005, approximately 930,000 women over the age of 14 were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe continues to suffer a severe socioeconomic and political crisis, including unprecedented rates of inflation and a severe ‘brain drain’ of Zimbabwe’s health care professionals. Elements of a previously well-maintained health care infrastructure are crumbling. Zimbabwe’s HIV crisis is exacerbated by chronic food insecurity. Sub-optimal nutrition increases the vulnerability of individuals with compromised immune systems to life-threatening opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis. Gender inequality and widespread practices of multiple and concurrent sexual relationships, and cross-generational sex fuel Zimbabwe’s epidemic, particularly among youth. Social norms, including stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, excessive alcohol consumption, and a reluctance to talk about HIV status or sexual relations also create barriers to behavior change.