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International News
Zimbabwean HIV/AIDS Advocates Express Hope About New Government

October 1, 2008

A power sharing deal signed on Sept. 15 by Zimbabwe's three political parties has made some HIV/AIDS advocates optimistic for increased access to medications and services at state hospitals, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Benjamin Mazhindu, chair of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, said, "In previous years, there has been serious under-funding of key ministries, such as health and social welfare, with ministries such as defense being given priority." He added that budget decisions in an "all-inclusive government" would not be made by just one party that holds a majority. In addition, the network's "hope ... rests on the fact that budget proposals will [now] be heavily debated in parliament," Mazhindu said.

The new power sharing agreement -- between the ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the majority Movement for Democratic Change -- has contributed to the end of a period of political violence, IRIN/PlusNews reports. An estimated 320,000 HIV-positive people in Zimbabwe are in need of antiretroviral treatment but only about 100,000 are accessing the drugs at public health facilities, according to IRIN/PlusNews. A ban by the Social Welfare Ministry that hindered nongovernmental organizations' HIV/AIDS relief efforts was lifted, but "in reality," only groups running antiretroviral treatment programs were permitted to resume their work, IRIN/PlusNews reports. According to IRIN/PlusNews, the political crisis also led to a funding deficit for HIV/AIDS programs because international donors have been pulling out of the country. Some NGOs in Zimbabwe said they hope that the new government will allow them to continue their work without restriction or interference, according to IRIN/PlusNews.

President of the Zimbabwe HIV and AIDS Activist Union Bernard Nyathi said that the "welfare of HIV-positive Zimbabweans has, for too long, been ignored," and that the parliament under the new administration would not be the "rubber stamp" it had been for the past two decades. He said that members of parliament "could help improve the lives of us people living with HIV. We have no doubt about that and we are very optimistic" (IRIN/PlusNews, 9/29).

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