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Political Crisis, Economic Meltdown Jeopardize Zimbabwe AIDS Gains

A report released this week on efforts in Africa to expand access to antiretroviral drugs to keep the HIV-positive from developing AIDS offered a mixed assessment of progress in 17 countries, warning that Zimbabwe was in danger of losing ground.

Zimbabwean authorities have made progress scaling up access to antiretroviral drug therapy, but political crisis and economic collapse threaten to reverse gains.

The authors of the report, which analyzed the scale-up of ARV drug therapy in 17 countries, argued that treatment is the best response to to the killer disease. The group urged international agencies to increase financial resources.

In a media teleconference on Wednesday, the authors, including South Africa's Zackie Achmat, offered views on progress and setbacks in ARV treatment scale-up.

Achmat, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for his work in fighting AIDS, said a sea-change had occurred in treatment, but emphasized that governments must act "with sufficient clarity, planning and moral and political leadership."

Martha Kwaitane, co-author of the Malawi chapter of the document, said the lack of transport in many countries posed an obstacle to boosting treatment access.

Co-author Matilda Moyo of the Zimbabwe section of the report told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while Zimbabwe has succeeded in bringing its prevalence rate under 18% from close to 25% a few years ago, and raised the number getting ARVs to more than 80, 000, much remains to be done.

Zimbabwe Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said he had not read the report - but disputed the charge that Harare lacked political will to battle HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Parirenyatwa said the government was fully committed to combating HIV and AIDS, and insisted that the Zimbabwean government was well on its way to its target of putting 120,000 people on antiretroviral treatment by the end of 2007.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...