Zimbabwe ‘Fuelling HIV Spread’

BBC News, July 28, 2006

A human rights group says the “abusive policies” of the Zimbabwean government are fuelling the HIV/Aids epidemic.

Human Rights Watch says despite a recent drop in infection rates, 20% of the population had HIV with thousands dying each week.

They say current policies, including forced evictions and expensive health care, were squandering progress in the fight against the disease.

The Zimbabwean government has not yet responded to the report.

“Zimbabwe has been hailed as a ‘success story’ in the fight against Aids,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/Aids programme at Human Rights Watch.

“But abusive government policies are blocking treatment for those who desperately need it and making even more people vulnerable to infection.”

Raft of problems

The New York based rights group said up to 1.6 million people in Zimbabwe were living with HIV but only 25,000 of the 350,000 people in immediate need of antiretroviral drugs had access to treatment.

They claimed forced evictions had left HIV sufferers living in appalling conditions and had also interfered with prevention measures.

Police are alleged to have destroyed nearly 2,000 outlets providing condoms in urban townships during demolition programs, which took place last year.

The report also claimed that non-government groups attempting to fight the disease, which kills more than 3,000 people a week, were harassed and intimidated by government officials.

Human Rights Watch called on the international donor community—which has withdrawn large amounts of assistance because of the government’s poor human rights record—to increase funding for HIV/Aids programs.

In a speech opening parliament, President Robert Mugabe touched on the issue of HIV, saying new legislation was needed to stop domestic violence and “retrogressive traditional practices” such as marriage of girls, which ran “counter to prevent the spread of HIV and Aids epidemic”.

He also said a shortage of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV would be alleviated with the establishment of a new local drug manufacturer.

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