Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Monday opened a national HIV and AIDS conference with a call for the nation's men to take a larger role in the response to the deadly pandemic, not only for their own health but that of women and children.
In his keynote speech, Mr. Mugabe told the four-day conference that the transmission of HIV is a global injustice that must be eliminated, and that the large number of children living with HIV calls the nation to more intense and effective action.
The focus of the conference will be improved prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. One of Zimbabwe’s 2015 Millennium Development Goals is to reduce mother-to-infant transmission to 5 percent of births from around 25 percent today.
About 15,000 Zimbabwean newborns are infected each year with the AIDS virus.
Current World Health Organization guidelines state that a pregnant mother who tests positive for HIV should start taking a preventive medicine known as Zidovudine at about 14 weeks until the onset of labor to protect the baby from being infected.
National Director Lindiwe Chaza-Jangira of the Zimbabwe AIDS Network said she welcomed the call by President Mugabe for an expanded male role in the battle against AIDS - something that community health workers have long advocated, she said.
Chaza-Jangira said male patners must be more invloved in understanding and supporting measures to prevent mother-to-child tranmission, and basic HIV/AIDS prevention.
Elizabeth Mazhetese, operations director for the HIV/AIDS Zimbabwe Charity, said HIV transmission from mother to child continues in large part due to the stigma attached to HIV-positive status which discourages expectant mothers from seeking help.
She said women often worry about the reponse from husbands and family to news they are HIV-postive, a dynamic health workers are working to overcome.