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HIV Prevalence in Zimbabwe Decreases to 15.6%, Health Official Says

November 2, 2007

HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe during the past four years has decreased from 18.1% to 15.6%, Owen Mugurungi, head of the AIDS and TB unit at the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, said on Wednesday when announcing national HIV/AIDS estimates for 2007, the Herald/ reports (Chipunza, Herald/, 11/1).

According to Zimbabwe Health and Child Welfare Minister David Parirenyatwa, the decrease in HIV prevalence was seen among people ages 15 to 49. Weekly AIDS-related deaths also declined from 3,000 to 2,300, Parirenyatwa said. He added that the decline in HIV prevalence is a "significant drop, but the figures are still very high, and more should be done to further lower the numbers."

About 1.3 million people in Zimbabwe are expected to be living with HIV/AIDS by the end of the year, Xinhua News Agency reports. However, the number could increase if people do not change their behaviors and attitudes toward the disease, Parirenyatwa said (Xinhua News Agency, 11/1). In addition, the number of HIV cases among children younger than age 15 has increased from 125,161 cases in 2003 to 132,938 currently. Mugurungi attributed the increase to the extended survival of children receiving antiretroviral drugs and the low-cost antibiotic cotrimoxazole. According to the Herald/, about 18,000 of the 194,000 children in need of cotrimoxazole have access to it, and of the approximately 24,000 children in need of antiretrovirals, about 7,000 have access to them. "We take cognizance of our efforts attained in the antiretroviral rollout program for the decline in the prevalence rate," Mugurungi said, adding, "If we take out the impact of antiretrovirals, the prevalence rate could have been 15.3%."

The 2007 estimates were compiled using data from prenatal clinics at 19 sites in the country, the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey 2005-2006, the national census, testing and counseling data, and the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission Program, the Herald/ reports (Herald/, 11/1).

According to the AP/International Herald Tribune, some analysts were "skeptical" of the figures because of the "lack of medical care" in the country. In addition, although Zimbabwe said its estimates were verified by the United Nations, UNAIDS disagreed. "It looks like they've used the methodology that we recommended," UNAIDS spokesperson Sophie Barton-Knott said, adding that "however, as we haven't received this data officially, we cannot validate it."

UNICEF said the decline in prevalence is "one of the most significant and rapid declines of any country in the world." The organization added that "mortality also played a hand in the drop." Other analysts said that they doubt the estimates because of the problems with Zimbabwe's economy and infrastructure, lack of access to health care and the difficulty of using statistics when as much as one-third of the population has left the country. "I think with the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, one would be kind of skeptical about statistics, which could also be caused by an undercount, by mass migration," David Bourne of the University of Cape Town said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/1).

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