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HIV-AIDS Activists Urge Health System Overhaul To Deliver ARVs

AIDS activists have hailed a pledge from the government of Zimbabwe to make life-saving antiretroviral drugs available to 160,000 people by year's end, but emphasize that Harare must simultaneously address a wider crisis in the health care system.

About 50,000 Zimbabweans are now receiving antiretroviral drug therapy to fend off the ravages of the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV upon their immune systems. But the government estimates that 300,000 people out of more than a million infected with HIV urgently need such treatment, and some say the figure is closer to 500,000.

More than tripling the number on ARV therapy means not only sourcing the drugs but expanding and improving the clinical framework within which ARVs are administered, HIV-AIDS activists caution, pointing to the ongoing turmoil in Zimbabwe's hospitals.

About 350 junior and senior resident doctors in government hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo are on strike, and hundreds of nurses are on strike in various cities.

Experts say the labor crisis is symptomatic of the general decline of the health care system, and that efforts to massively scale up antiretroviral drug delivery could be hindered if hospitals and clinics remain understaffed and poorly equipped.

Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe brought together two experts to elicit their views on the challenges Harare faces in making good on its pledge to triple the number of people on life-extending ARVs: Tapiwanashe Kujinga, a regional coordinator with the Collaborative Fund for HIV Treatment Preparedness for Southern Africa and Lindiwe Chaza-Jangira, national director of the Zimbabwe AIDS Network for NGOs working in HIV and AIDS across the country.

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