Zimbabwe HIV/AIDS Rate Drops

December 12, 2009

Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS infection rate has dropped to below 14 percent.

According to Voice of American, Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, which started at least 23 years ago, used to record infection rates of more than 25 percent of the population,but  a demographic survey conducted in 2006 found the infection rate had dropped to 18 percent.

Now, health care authorities, say it is at 13.75 percent.

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South Africa has promised to overhaul the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients within the African nation.  In a speech marking World AIDS Day, December 1, President Jacob Zuma outlined a number of policy changes, which he hopes will be put in place before April 2010.

The BBC reported that UK’s Department for International Development welcomed the changes, saying, “South Africa has turned a corner and is embarking on a new and bold drive to take responsibility for tackling HIV and Aids.  The UK will continue to support South Africa to realize its ambition of reducing new HIV infections and increasing access to effective treatments.”

Zuma announced all South African babies under the age of one will be treated if they test HIV-positive and promised more anti-retrovirals – ‘drugs which the previous government said were too costly’, according to the BBC.

In his speech, President Zuma said, “Let there be no more shame, no more blame, no more discrimination and no more stigma. Let the politicization and endless debates about HIV and Aids stop.”

The speech conveyed a completely different message than the previous president who outright denied any correlation between the HIV virus and AIDS.

However, not every is so confident in the leaders abilities to raise awareness. Al-Jazeera English reports, “In some ways, Zuma is an unlikely champion for Aids activists.  In 2006, while being tried on charges of raping an HIV-positive woman, he was ridiculed for testifying that he took a shower after sex to lower the risk of Aids.

An estimated 59,000 babies are born with HIV every year in South Africa, adding to a country with highest number of people living with the virus- over 5 million.

AIDS IN SOUTH AFRICA

5.2m people with HIV

17% of people aged 15-49 HIV-positive

1.5m adults need Aids drugs in 2009

106,000 children under 15 need ARVs

413,000 new infections in 2009

59,000 of these are children

Source: Statistics South Africa

Last month, the African nation of Uganda proposed an anti-homosexuality bill, making anyone caught engaging in homosexuality liable to be sentenced to life in prison. Homosexuals, who are HIV positive and knowingly take part in a sexual act or engage in sex with an individual under the age of 18, are liable to be sentenced to death under the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”.

Speaker Edward Sekandi told Daily Monitor that the new legislation was necessary “to do whatever we can to stop” homosexuality in Uganda. “We don’t support that practice.”

However, the global response has been anything but supportive of the initiative.

Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said, “This draft bill is clearly an attempt to divide and weaken civil society by striking at one of its most marginalized groups.  The government may be starting here, but who will be next?”

The United States has said they will continue  President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding to Uganda despite the antigay violence.  QUEERTY, a gay blog, writes that the PEPFAR coordinator’s decision is  “…propping up a nation that still treats HIV as “the gay disease,” that further stigmatizez the queer community, and is now calling for the murder of anyone who dares involve themselves in same-sex sex.”

Truthwinsout.org comments on why they don’t support the PEPFAR decision. “HIV/AIDS in Uganda is primarily a heterosexual phenomenon; Goosby falsely contends that it is a homosexual phenomenon that threatens the “general population and the bill would criminalize key aspects of comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention education and imprison health-care workers who refuse to report sexually active gay patients to the police.”

Uganda, the outgoing chair of the Commonwealth,  is expected to promote, among other issues, human rights as part of their membership in the international organization.

But, Times Online quoted Stephen Lewis, the former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, as saying Uganda’s bill goes against the Commonwealth’s principles, stating, “Nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the Bill in Uganda.”

The proposed anti-homosexual bill also threatens anyone found promoting homosexuality or anyone who fails to report known homosexuality activity.

The bill is currently making its way through the country’s Parliament.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries.  Currently, South Africa is the only nation on the continent that legally allows gay marriage.