Bridget Mananavire 11 December 2016
HARARE – While the country has made enormous strides in reducing the HIV
prevalence, gains made thus far could be reduced by a spike in infections
among adolescents, the Health and Child Care ministry warned recently.
Last year alone nearly 14 000 girls and young women, between the ages of
15 to 24, in Zimbabwe were infected with HIV raising fears that the next
generation is under threat.
This comes as the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has also warned
in a World Aids Day report, of a global rise of HIV infections among
adolescents from 250 000 in 2015 to nearly 400 000 a year by 2030 if
progress is stalled in reaching out to adolescents.
Health minister David Parirenyatwa said Zimbabwe’s theme was focused on
closing the taps on new infections especially among the youth and young
women who had become vulnerable of getting infected with virus.
“Although the global theme is: `Hands up for HIV prevention’, we localised
it to `closing tap of new infections’ as Zimbabwe noted that new
infections are rising particularly among the adolescents and women.
“This theme therefore seeks to solidify the thrust of the previous themes,
which are aligned to HIV prevention,” Parirenyatwa said in a state of the
nation address on HIV and Aids recently.
According to Parirenyatwa, although new HIV infections are generally
decreasing, the country is recording a significant rise in HIV infection
among people aged between 10 and 19 years.
“This year’s commemoration comes at a pivotal time when we have committed
to ending Aids by 2030 in line with fast track targets and the sustainable
development goals, which call for ending the epidemics of Aids,
tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases among others.”
Zimbabwe is experiencing a dilemma on whether to provide condoms to the
adolescent group or not.
Debate has been raging on, on whether condoms should be provided at
schools or not with advocates saying it would reduce infections while
those against it saying it would encourage children to engage in sexual
activities at a younger age.
Young women and girls are currently being provided with a core package of
services that includes HIV testing, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis,
prevention and gender-based violence support, family planning, social
protection, educational subsidies, and economic assistance for parents and
caregivers of highly vulnerable girls under an initiative supported by the
American embassy dubbed “Dreams” (Determined, Resilient, Empowered,
Aids-Free, Mentored, and Safe).
The Dreams initiative is bankrolled to the tune of $38 million and in
empowering adolescent girls and young women. It is also strengthening
family and community support structures which are critical in fighting
Voluntary medical male circumcision is also in the pipeline for males aged
15 to 29 as Zimbabwe strives to curb new infections.
Moreover, the issue of child marriages continues to be a headache, with
sex education also proving to be a controversial issue at family level,
resulting in dearth of safe sex knowledge.
According to the Unicef report there were nearly two million adolescents
aged 10 to 19 living with HIV in 2015 globally.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by HIV, girls accounted
for three out of every four new infections among adolescents aged 15-19.
In a press release on World Aids Day (December 1) Unicef executives said
girls are more at risk of contracting HIV than boys.
“The world has made tremendous progress in the global effort to end Aids,
but the fight is far from over – especially for children and adolescents,”
Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said in the statement.
“Every two minutes, another adolescent – most likely a girl – will be
infected with HIV. If we want to end Aids, we need to recapture the
urgency this issue deserves and redouble our efforts to reach every child
and every adolescent.”
There are an estimated 1, 4 million people living with HIV in Zimbabwe,
with over 100 000 of them projected to be adolescents and children.
National statistics also state that only 45 percent of young women and 24
percent of young men have been ever tested for HIV.
The report further proposed several strategies for accelerating progress
in preventing HIV among adolescents and treating those who are already
infected including “Investing in innovation including in locally grown
solutions as well as strengthening data collection”.
But funding for the Aids response has declined since 2014, Unicef said.
In his World Aids Day message, United Nations secretary general Ban
Ki-moon said the world must also look ahead with resolve and commitment
to reach its goal of ending the Aids by 2030.
“There has been real progress on many fronts, including a reduction by
half in the number of children infected through mother-to-child
transmission since 2010, fewer Aids-related deaths each year, longer lives
for people with HIV and greater access to live-saving medicines,” he said.
“But gains remain fragile, with young women vulnerable in countries with
high HIV prevalence, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and new infections
on the rise among people who inject drugs as well gay men and other men
who have sex with men.”