June 27, 2002

Zimbabwe left out of US anti-AIDS plan

Zimbabwe has been left out of a US$500 million American-funded programme to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and to strengthen health care systems of African and Caribbean countries worst hit by the deadly disease. Announcing the programme last week, United States of America President George Bush said: "This new effort, which will be funded for the next 16 months, will allow us to treat one million women annually and reduce mother-to-child transmission by 40 percent within five years or less in target countries."

Countries to benefit in Africa include Botswana, Cote d’Ivore, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda while Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia will also be able to tap into the funds at a later stage.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Harare would not comment on the conspicuous absence of Zimbabwe from the list of countries set to benefit from Washington’s biggest ever support to the war against AIDS. The spokesman however noted that Washington’s HIV/AIDS support already constituted the largest component of current American aid to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the world, with an estimated 2 000 of the 12 million Zimbabweans dying of the disease every week.

A grinding economic crisis, coupled with a collapsing public health sector, has only exacerbated the impact of the incurable epidemic on the southern African nation, which faces severe famine and runaway inflation, joblessness and poverty. Zimbabwe’s relations with the West have been strained over differences on governance and human rights issues after the presidential election controversially won by President Robert Mugabe.

Meanwhile the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ADIS (UNAIDS) says the incurable disease has severely impacted on economic growth, labour productivity and agricultural output of sub-Saharan Africa, with hard hit countries such as Zambia experiencing a 50 percent drop in labour output. Economic growth had declined by as much as four percent in some countries while national security was also being undermined, with some African countries having an infection rate as high as 50-60 percent in their military populations, it said this week. UNAIDS said: "HIV/AIDS is rapidly weakening economic stability in the already fragile markets of sub-Saharan Africa. The rate of economic growth has fallen by as much as four percent. "Labour productivity has been cut by 50 percent in the hardest hit countries. By 2020 over 25 percent of the workforce may be lost to AIDS in some severely affected countries." (FINANCIAL GAZETTE)

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