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Zimbabweans Pledge To Redouble Efforts To Beat AIDS

Zimbabwe, like many other African countries hit hard by HIV-AIDS, joined the rest of the world Friday in observing World Aids Day. Zimbabweans from all walks of life gathered in Bulawayo and pledged to redouble efforts to defeat the scourge.

AIDS has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, and each week kills an estimated 3,000 more. One in five adult Zimbabweans is HIV-positive.

Zimbabwe has made some progress, lowering the rate of prevalence of the virus – the percentage of Zimbabweans infected – from a high just under 25% to less than 20%.

But a huge problem of treatment remains to be solved, as only about one in seven Zimbabweans living with HIV is currently able to access antiretroviral drugs.

So Zimbabweans are living amidst an immense tragedy and facing a massive public health problem with limited resources - the country has been in recession for the past six years and 12-month inflation was last measured at 1,070% in October.

Health workers, people living with HIV/AIDS, artists and school children were among hundreds who attended World AIDS Day ceremonies in White City Stadium as musicians and activists urged the audience to help curb the pandemic.

Reporter Netsai Mlilo reported on the event.

But some members of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV-AIDS boycotted the event. A breakaway faction led by Joao Zangarat has accused Harare of failing to keep its promise to provide treatment and care for orphans.

Zangarat recently led a "die-in" protest at the offices of the National Aids Council in Harare, which was created to coordinate national efforts against the disease but has been criticized for spending some 70% of its budget on administrative costs.

Zangarat told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe that his group boycotted the event because it feels betrayed by the government.

Meanwhile, a debate continues on the extent to which HIV prevalence has declined.

President Robert Mugabe said late Thursday that the country was leading Africa in the fight against the disease. Mr. Mugabe complimented his own government for nearly doubling the number of people on antiretroviral drugs from 26,000 last year to some 45,000 this year. But an estimated 321,000 Zimbabweans need ARV drugs.

Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe spoke with Chiratidzo Ndlovu, a University of Zimbabwe lecturer and the head of the HIV clinic at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, who said the fight is far from won.

More Reports From Studio 7 For Zimbabwe...