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Zimbabweans in South Africa At High Risk Of Contracting Killer AIDS Virus

US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray at the Auxullia Chimusoro Awards

Zimbabwean migrants who have moved to South Africa to work on farms there are at high risk, concluded a survey commissioned by the International Organization for Migration Affairs

Experts on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe say the country has made progress over the past few years in particular in reducing the national HIV prevalence or infection rate and significantly increasing the number of people on antiretroviral drug treatment.

But they quickly add that more must be done to reduce mother-to-child transmission, in particular, to reduce unnecessary deaths from AIDS-related illnesses.

After observations Wednesday of World AIDS Day, Ministry of Healthy officials, activists and community leaders continued to discuss what more Zimbabwe can do to reduce new infections and provide universal access to life-extending antiretroviral drugs.

Stakeholders planned to meet Friday in Harare, the capital, to map out the country's next five-year year plan against the killer virus.

In the wake of the observances in central Kadoma yesterday, VOA Studio Seven reporter Sandra Nyaira reached out to experts on HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe for an assessment of problems and priorities for the nation. These included Safaids Country Director Monica Mandiki and Washington-based HIV/AIDS consultant Frenk Guni.

Mandiki said the Kadoma event unified thousands of HIV-positive Zimbabweans who told Health Minister Henry Madzorera to greatly expand access to ARV treatment.

One aspect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic affecting Zimbabweans is that migrants who have moved to South Africa to work on farms there are at particularly high risk, according to a survey commissioned by the International Organization for Migration Affairs.

The survey of agricultural migrant workers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces where many Zimbabweans labor in South African fields found a shockingly high 40 percent HIV prevalence or infection rate, as correspondent Benedict Nhlapho reported.

Elsewhere, the US Agency for International Development announced the winners of its 2010 Auxillia Chimusoro Awards honoring those who have excelled in fighting HIV/AIDS.

USAID added an award category to honor Lynde Francis, an early HIV/AIDS activist who succumbed to the disease in 2009. It went to the late Dr. Monica Glenshaw, former district medical officer for Manicaland and superintendent of Murambinda Hospital.

The Chimusoro communications award went to Catherine Murombedzi, the first journalist in Zimbabwe to reveal her HIV-positive status, while a leadership award went to Health Ministry HIV/AIDS Director Dr. Owen Mugurungi. The Chimusoro social investment award went to Africaid, which runs the Zvandiri HIV program for adolescents.

In another Zimbabwean health crisis - though on a smaller scale, Amnesty International urged the Zimbabwean government to investigate deaths of newborn babies at Hopeley Farm, a settlement it created to resettle thousands of people displaced five years ago by the forced eviction and demolition campaign known as Operation Murambatsvina.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera reported on an Amnesty news conference in Harare.