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Zimbabweans Mourn Death of AIDS Conference Delegates

The 20th International AIDS Conference entered its second day Monday in Melbourne, Australia, with delegates paying tribute to some colleagues who perished in the Malaysian air disaster Thursday on their way to the event.

The Executive Director of the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS), Lois Chingandu, says there was a lot of sadness at the event as they remembered the delegates who died in the crash, where 298 people died.

Despite that serious setback, Chingandu tells Voice of America’s Studio 7 reporter, Marvellous Mhlanga Nyahuye, she is impressed by the high level of representation by Zimbabwe’s health officials at the conference attended by more than 12,000 people.

Chingandu said the conference will also give Zimbabwe an opportunity to showcase some of its major achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS which include the successful programme of curbing mother to child HIV transmission, which has led to a reduction in the rate of infection in such cases.

"Not only are we coming to learn from this conference but we are also bringing lessons and innovations that we have done as Zimbabwe, that we hope other people can learn from," said Chingandu.

"It was quite critical that we demonstrate the issue of leadership and accountability as it's a key message in this conference because we are moving to a stage where HIV is becoming a normal disease in the country and we need to demonstrate that our government, particularly through the Ministry of Health, is ready to take on the challenge of addressing
HIV with minimal external support," she added.

Zimbabwe's Head of AIDS and TB Unit in the Health Ministry, Dr. Owen Mugurungi who is also at the AIDS conference in Melbourne, told Studio7 early this years that his Ministry had embarked on a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy under which medical male circumcision was being encouraged as one of the methods for fighting HIV.

Dr. Mugurungi said his Ministry partnered with other non-profit organisations and carried out the male circumcision drive which saw 90,000 men undergoing the procedure to date.

According to Chingandu, some of these HIV prevention programmes that are successful in Zimbabwe will also be highlighted at the conference that ends Friday.