Zimbabwe: AIDS in the midst of crisis

As Zimbabwe has been rocked by political violence and upheaval over the past few weeks, HIV/AIDS continues to loom large among the Zimbabwean people’s problems.

This isn’t the place to go into detail about Zimbabwean politics – even assuming I was capable of doing so, which I’m not.  Basically, long-time president Robert Mugabe won another term in office in a run-off election preceded by so much political violence and intimidation, his opponent dropped out of the race just days before the voting date.  His government now stands on very shaky ground, as the rest of the world tries to decide what to do.  To learn more, I strongly recommend the BBC News Special Report, Zimbabwe in Crisis.

Zimbabwe’s political problems exacerbate the problem of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in that area in several ways.  I’ve gathered several articles that at least touch on the subject.

John Yearwood’s article from the Miami Herald (which I also mention in this post) features a Zimbabwean AIDS activist who talks about the problems caused by his country’s political atmosphere.

In the run-up to the more recent election, NGOs were banned from working in the country on June 13.  Although about 400 HIV/AIDS organizations were exempted from the rule, this detail was often overlooked on the ground.  Political violence, especially in rural areas, made it almost impossible for many NGOs to get to the people they care for.  This July 1 article from IRIN/PlusNews and this June 21 article from the Zimbabwe Standard (one of Zimbabwe’s few independent press outlets) discuss this situaton.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s women have faced the danger of rape as a political weapon as groups of Mugabe supporters have terrorized political opponents.  A man quoted in this article described the situation this way:

“Every woman who is still young is being raped by these brutes who threaten to destroy homesteads if women do not give in to their demands. We men, know it’s happening even though women don’t talk about it. We know they are desperate to spare their husbands and families victimisation. We are going to be raising children that are not ours, but AIDS is the real threat in the community now.”

BBC article reports a matter-of-fact attitude about rape and sexual abuse among some of Mugabe’s supporters.  According to the author, the responses he encountered

glossed over the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/Aids which has wreaked havoc in Zimbabwe. 

Life expectancy has plunged to 37 years from 60 years in 1990, largely due to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

(Here’s a brand new blog post from womensphere that talks about violence against women in Zimbabwe.)

The situation in Zimbabwe brings the warning in a recent Red Cross report (World Disaster Report 2008) into sharp relief:

“ignoring HIV/AIDS as a disaster exposes people to unnecessary risks. According to the report, relief workers should do more to prevent unsafe blood donations, protect women and children from rape and minimize disruptions in HIV treatment. In addition, low-cost measures and better planning should be implemented to minimize the risk of spreading the disease in a disaster zone (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/26). The report also called on governments and humanitarian agencies to pay more attention to HIV/AIDS in their response to armed conflicts, as well as the growing rate of transmission among vulnerable groups, including injection drug users, commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men (Evans, Reuters, 6/25).

(Quote is from this article. For more on the Red Cross Report, see this post from June 30.)


~ by h.e.g. on July 3, 2008.

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