THE United Nations resident representative and humanitarian coordinator in Zimbabwe has revealed that 20 000 people lost their lives due to Aids in the year 2022 while 1.3 million citizens are living with HIV in the country.
Edward Kallon made the remarks on Friday at Chinotimba Stadium in Victoria Falls during commemorations to mark World Aids Day whose theme was “Let Communities Lead.”
The commemorations were held ahead of the biennial International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (Icasa) which will be held in Harare from 4 to 9 December. Up to 8 000 delegates from across the world are expected to attend.
Kallon said in Zimbabwe more women than men are living with HIV.
“Allow me to share some pertinent statistics. According to the 2022 Zimbabwe epidemic status report, approximately 1.3 million people, accounting for 8.7% of the total population, are people living with HIV,” he said.
“Tragically, 20 000 lives have been lost to Aids-related illnesses in the same year.
“The impact on women is particularly significant, as women make up 61% of the 1.2 million adults living with HIV.”
Kallon said while Zimbabwe has made commendable progress in the fight against the HIV pandemic, the country still faces numerous challenges in achieving the goal of eradicating Aids.
He noted that these challenges include disparities in access to HIV services based on age, gender, and geography.
On the other hand, adolescent and young women are disproportionately affected by new infections, while children and key populations have limited access to services.
National-scale implementation of programmes targeting adolescent girls and young women from key and vulnerable populations is yet to be achieved. Kallon said to effectively end the pandemic in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Zimbabwe must undertake four critical actions.
“First, we need to scale up HIV prevention and treatment programmes to cover all sub-population groups, with a particular focus on adolescent girls and young women. Second, community leadership and the engagement of men are crucial in addressing social norms related to gender equality and gender-based violence.
“Third, enacting and enforcing laws and policies for key population groups is essential, and sustaining initiatives like social contracting and strengthening evidence generation for key and vulnerable populations. Fourth, allocation of adequate funding and economic opportunities to communities as they connect individuals to person-centred public health services, foster trust, and hold providers accountable . . . end stigma and discrimination,” he said.
Kallon also urged Zimbabwe to prioritise the strategic priorities outlined in the National Development Strategy 1, the 2022-2026 UN Cooperation Framework, and the Global Aids Strategy, all of which put people first.
Over the years, comprehensive and reliable funding, as well as capacity-building support, have been noted to be critical to delivering inclusive and quality services.
Furthermore, there have been calls for creating an enabling environment that facilitates community involvement in decision-making and protects the human rights of all, especially marginalised and key populations.
Kallon said the UN system in Zimbabwe is committed to standing with and for communities in the fight against HIV and Aids.
“We will continue to advocate for the values, standards, and principles of the UN Charter, including respect for and protection of human rights and gender equality,” he said.
“As we reflect on the progress made in Zimbabwe’s journey from the scourge of HIV and Aids, it is imperative that we learn from our experiences and strategise to reach the last mile of ending Aids by 2030.”
Through collaborative efforts between the government of Zimbabwe, local communities, and international partners, a comprehensive national response has already been implemented that considers both local realities and international commitments.
Notably, young people are adopting safer sexual behaviours, and Aids-related deaths have been reduced through widespread availability of free anti-retroviral therapy (ART) in public clinics as well as access to treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programmes in which nearly one million HIV-positive Zimbabweans can lead long and productive lives.
Despite these achievements, HIV and Aids remain a threat to the socio-economic progress which Zimbabwe has made and has the potential to destabilise society and hinder human development.
Experts say it is crucial to address the underlying factors contributing to the spread of HIV such as gender inequality and practices that perpetuate sexual and gender-based violence.
The greatest risk of new HIV infection lies with urban, educated adults in their productive and reproductive years who typically have greater mobility and disposable income.
Reducing risky behaviour by investing in behavioural science and communication for development is seen as essential in addressing the problem.