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HIV laws need reconsideration

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Yesterday, December 1, was World Aids Day, a day that nations around the Globe unite in the fight against HIV by demonstrating their support for people living with HIV and Aids through material and moral support and also remembering people who have died from the deadly scourge. In Zimbabwe, the government, through deputy Health and Child Welfare minister Dr Paul Chimedza last week, launched new Anti-Retroviral drug guidelines where HIV and Aids positive people will start accessing drugs from a CD4 count of 500 instead of the previous 350, while children less than five years will be placed on treatment as soon as they are diagnosed.

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This is a welcome move given that in Africa, people are put on ARVs when their CD4 count has dropped to levels that may be difficult to manage and restore to normalcy. This is despite the fact that the prevalence of HIV and Aids even in developed countries is quite high, with an estimated 34 million people being infected with the virus worldwide. Quite surprisingly and certainly very disturbingly, this year has seen a curious rise in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Zimbabwe — an indication that a lot of people are engaging in casual unprotected sex — the best way to contract the HIV virus. World Aids Day, commemorated yesterday in Chikomba district, Mashonaland East, is therefore, critical as it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away — that the cure is still as elusive as it was 20 years ago and therefore that there is still a lot of need to increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education on the deadly virus.

Reports this year gave chilling statistics where over 10 000 people in Masvingo province contracted sexually transmitted infections within three months from April to June. Most of them were students at universities and colleges where hunger and poverty drove girls into flesh peddlers — contracting such diseases as chancroid, gonorrhoea, syphilis and herpes simplex in the process. Chances of getting the dreaded HIV in these circumstances are almost 100 percent! Elsewhere in Matabeleland North, the National Aids Council reported in February this year said that the province had recorded 10 584 cases of new STI cases and 1 744 repeat cases last year as compared to the 8 415 recorded in 2011.

On a national level, the country has recorded a sharp increase in the incidence of STIs with Masvingo topping the list of the country’s 10 provinces. The province recorded 53,611 cases last year alone. Urethral and vaginal discharge, genital ulcers, syphilis, pelvic inflammatory disease, buboes without ulcers and genital warts were some of the common infections.

This is indicative of a deepening crisis requiring that we take stock of efforts employed so far in the fight against the Aids pandemic, and that serious reconsideration of the country’s laws on HIV. President Robert Mugabe’s views on this matter should be commended. He suggested during one of his visits to New York that countries should treat the HIV and Aids pandemic as a public health emergency and enforce compulsory testing for everyone.

“To tell you the truth,” President Mugabe said, “I am of the view that HIV and Aids, being so devastating an epidemic, governments of the region — perhaps universally — should agree that it’s not a violation of rights to subject people to medical examinations . . . ”

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