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Emerging HIV prevention strategies helping to reduce to new infections in Zimbabwe

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According to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) 2010-11 conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency in June 2011 knowledge of HIV prevention methods has increased. Knowledge on condom use and limiting sexual partners in women has increased from 65% in 2005 to 77 % in 2011. The same sample also shows an increase from 71% in 2005 to 79% for men in the 2010-11 ZDHS. In order to curtail the spread of HIV infection the government has been working with civil society and international partners in the implementation of HIV prevention interventions.

The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare recorded a significant decline in both prevalence and incidences of HIV from a high of over 29% in 1999 to 14.2% in 2010. This decline has been attributed to a number of factors such as increased promotion and uptake of HIV prevention, treatment and management services. Some of these services have been provided to the people through funds from international donors and the government’s AIDS levy. Recently the United States government, through the President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has approved an additional $39 million to fund HIV/AIDS programs in Zimbabwe.

In order to share scientific and community perspectives on HIV prevention interventions, the US Embassy Public Affairs Section hosted Dr Peter Kilmarx, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC- Zim) and Chamunorwa Mashoko an HIV/AIDS activist.  The meeting was meant to share knowledge on the new and emerging HIV prevention strategies in Zimbabwe and how the community is responding to these interventions. Some of the emerging HIV prevention strategies discussed included male circumcision; PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis); PREP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and provision of ante-retroviral therapy. However Dr Kilmarx noted that post-exposure prophylaxis is currently being used mainly for occupational incidents. Interesting figures in the use of female condom in Zimbabwe have put the country on the pole position in the world and an increase in the number of women who now access HIV testing through antenatal care has helped reduce new infections. Recently a study on a new intervention of over the counter/self testing was conducted in Malawi and the results proved to be successful though it is still subject to debate. Zimbabwe hopes to achieve coverage of 80% in male circumcision by 2015 despite the negative media reports the campaign has received so far.

During the discussion Chamunorwa reiterated that no intervention works in isolation and scaling up HIV testing is vital since it is an entry to accessing treatment. The community was also urged to share these new interventions through advocacy. Drawing experiences from his work in HIV prevention interventions, he also commended female participation in taking up the emerging HIV prevention strategies.

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