MATABELELAND North province is battling a resurgent HIV menace emanating from the prevalence of gold rush activities, as well as many spousal separation cases in Tsholotsho where many men cross the border to South Africa to seek employment while their wives remain behind.
Gold-mining activities are rife in areas such as Ndabazinduna and Nyamandlovu.
In order to put Matabeleland North in the limelight due to the emerging HIV trend, this year’s World Aids Day commemorations were held in the province, at Chinotimba Stadium in Victoria Falls on 1 December under the theme “Let Communities Lead.”
The NewsHawks can reveal that Umguza district has since recorded the highest number of new HIV infections in Matabeleland North province, according to latest statistics.
The 2022 census report shows that Umguza has a population of about 113 265 people in an area spanning into 6 043 square kilometres.
Speaking during a media tour organised by the National Aids Council ahead of the International Aids Day held on Friday, as well as the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASSA) which kick starts on 4 December in Harare, Umguza District Aids Coordinator (DAC) Mungiwabesuthu Ngwenya said the rural area is now heavily burdened by HIV.
“According to the latest 2023 statistics, UMguza district now has an HIV incidence rate of 0.27%, which is highest in the whole of Matabeleland North. Some districts such as Nkayi have as low as 0.05 % HIV incidence rate,” Ngwenya said.
The figures are worrying, considering that Zimbabwe, like the rest of the world, has a target of ending all HIV new infections to zero by 2030.
Ngwenya attributed the HIV situation in Umguza to mining and partly farming.
“We have got scores of people coming from across the country to embark on gold mining areas here in places such as Nyamandlovu and Ndabazinduna. So these people coming from all over are overburdening the HIV situation in the district,” he said.
“There is also the other cause of the high HIV incidence rate, which is farming. There are so many farming compounds here with a lot of people and so, again, these have made Umguza an HIV hotspot.”
Earlier on, Matabeleland North provincial manager of NAC, Dingaan Ncube, revealed that Tsholotsho has become another HIV hotspot due to spousal separation as most male adults work in South Africa.
The HIV prevalence for Tsholotsho is currently at 22.9%, which is more than the 11.1% national rate.
Binga has the lowest HIV prevalence at only 6.4%.
“In Tsholotsho most of the men work in South Africa where they are not documented. Because of that, they cannot access HIV services in that country and when they come back home infected, they contribute to the high figures of HIV prevalence, especially when they indulge in unprotected sexual activities with adolescent girls,” Ngwenya said.
“We also have a problem in which because the province is mostly rural, it becomes difficult to communicate as we are left with mostly the traditional ways of communication on issues to do with HIV prevention like high condom use and treatment.”
In order to solve the high HIV incidence rates and prevalence, Matabeleland North province has started implementing various programmes such as Sister-to-Sister and Brother-to-Brother programmes targeting young people aged between 10 and 22.
In these programmes, the young people are taken into groups of 30 each where they extensively receive training on HIV prevention and treatment.
In Mbembesi ward 3, Dorothy Mhlauli, the community HIV trainer of young people, told The NewsHawks in an interview that over 300 boys and girls have passed through her classes.
“It has helped to reduce new HIV infections because we talk of so many preventive uses. We have also been able to reduce cases of early teenage pregnancies and marriages,” Mhlauli said.
Headman Vanisha Zenzele Nkomo of ward 3 Niniva said he has allowed the HIV programmes to go unhindered in the area under his jurisdiction despite community challenges like stigma and patriarchy.
“We always encourage our people to participate in the programmes of HIV. At first some subjects did not understand it, but due to continued engagements, we are now making strides of progress,” Nkomo said.
HIV-related illnesses in Zimbabwe are among the leading causes of death among adults of reproductive age and children, hence the target to end all new infections by 2030.
Speaking at the candlelight memorial held on Thursday evening at Chinotimba Hall in Victoria Falls dedicated to people who died of Aids, Health minister Dr Douglas Mombeshora said in order to contain the HIV situation, focus has been placed on women.
“By empowering women with knowledge and family planning choices, we can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Furthermore, we will continue to strengthen existing antenatal and postnatal care services with scaling up of activities to eliminate vertical transmission of hepatitis B virus,” he said.