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Health ministry frets over US HIV funding

Health minister David Parirenyatwa is optimistic that the administration of new United States President Donald Trump will not withdraw HIV funding as many people depend on the life-saving programme.

By Phyllis Mbanje

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa

Zimbabwe has been one of the beneficiaries of the US President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (Pepfar) programme, through which successive US administrations have pumped millions of dollars into the country.

However, many countries have been holding their breath with the coming on board of Trump with concerns that critical programmes like HIV and Aids alleviation might not be prioritised.

“We have a new President in the States and I hope he continues to fund Pepfar and other programmes that help a lot of people. It is my appeal that he does not cut the assistance that comes to a lot of developing nations,” Parirenyatwa said yesterday during a stakeholder meeting on HIV revitalisation target setting in preparation for the Eastern and Southern Africa conference on HIV to be held in Zimbabwe at the end of the month.

Zimbabwe has remarkably reduced, through effective prevention programmes, the HIV prevalence rate from 29% to 13,7%.

Parirenyatwa said it was critical to prevent all new infections since the current prevalence rate was still considered too high.

“If we do not close the tap on new infections we will not win, they will keep on coming. Zimbabwe has done well, but there are still new infections,” he said.

Parirenyatwa said even though the country was one of the highest in terms of condom use, a lot needed to be done in keeping the disease at bay particularly as regards young people.

The Health minister urged the stakeholders to advocate for delayed sexual debut until the age of 18.

“Age of consent is 16, age of marriage is 18 — it is time we married the two. Let us not be ashamed to discuss when our children should have sex,” he said.

Speaking on circumcision myths, Parirenyatwa said the strategy was not to be taken as a foolproof method.

“We always say if you are circumcised it is not a torch to go about saying I am invincible. You still have to use combination prevention, you still have to use condoms,” he said.

Circumcision, according to current research, only prevents HIV infection up to 60%.

Meanwhile, PreExposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) will be introduced in a phased approach to populations at high risk of HIV infection. Pre-exposure prophylaxis is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected.

“In Zimbabwe, groups that are likely to be at substantial risk of HIV infection include adolescent girls and young women, male and female sex workers, at-risk men (prisoners, truck drivers),” Gertrude Ncube, the Health ministry’s national HIV prevention co-ordinator, said.

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