CONSTRUCTION of the Harare-Chirundu highway has seen a spike in cases of HIV infection as sex workers flock the highway to target men working on the project, a National Aids Council (NAC) official in Mashonaland West province has revealed.

Davison Mambudzi, the Mashonaland West NAC programmes officer, told The NewsHawks during a media tour of the province that while the project is aimed at turning around development, it has come with an HIV burden which his organisation is now seized with.

“Where there is money, sex workers usually rush to the area and this is now happening with the Harare-Chirundu road construction project. The ladies are coming in numbers from different places of the country to offer their services to men who are working in the project. As a result, the burden of HIV is increasing around the highway area,” he said.

Mambudzi said an HIV epidemic analysis had revealed the trend.

“The road construction project because of this factor is now being considered as one of the key drivers of HIV cases and to tackle that challenge we have already started interventions to deal with the problem such as intensifying condom distribution exercises and offering other packages that reduce new infections,” he said.

Giving an overview of the Mashonaland West provincial situation, Mambudzi said 143 000 people are currently living with HIV while 130 000 of them are already on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) in various districts which include Kariba, Chegutu, Makonde, Mhondoro Ngezi, Sanyati, and Zvimba.

The province has 1.2 million people in total. The HIV prevalence is at 13 % while the incidence rate is 0.16 %.

Chegutu district has the highest HIV burden with 3 000 children under the age of 18 living with the pandemic.

Kariba, which has a total population of 75 599 spread in 9 urban wards and 12 rural wards that are serviced by two hospitals as well as 8 clinics, has a relatively low disease burden  as the HIV incidence is at 0.16 while 4 442 people are on ART.

Key drivers of HIV in the area are spousal separation, low condom use and low risk perception.

“In Kariba due to their cultural practices that do not allow sexual relations of locals with outsiders, there is now a relatively low HIV burden. Their culture does not allow outsiders to penetrate the area and this has resulted in low HIV cases,” he said.

There are also peer-led groups in 10 fishing camps of Ndomu, Nyaodza, Forthergil, Gatche Gatche irrigation scheme,  Gatche Gatche fishing camp, Makuyu, Kings camp, Musamba, Chalala and Sibilobilo fishing camps that are advocating HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes.

In areas such as Mhondoro-Ngezi, there have also been artisanal mining-related spikes in HIV cases.

Countrywide, the 2023 NAC report shows that a total of 19 566 people died of Aids in the country, marking a significant decline compared to the past three years as public health institutions continue implementing measures to end the pandemic by 2030.

According to the statistics, last year’s figure is a decline from 2020 where the nation lost  23 427 lives to the pandemic.

In 2021, a total of 22 159 people died of Aids while in 2022 the number dropped to 21 286.
In total, as of the end of last year, a total of 1.3 million people were recorded as living with HIV. Of that figure, 520 720 are male and 782 585, female. A total of 82 711 of these are adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years.

In coming up with these figures, a national technical working group comprising individuals from the ministry of Health and Child Care, NAC and other stakeholders drives the process with guidance from the UNAIDS estimates team.

The major driving factor for HIV cases has long been the rampant unsafe sexual intercourse occurring mainly in mining areas and places where there is lots of movement of people to neighbouring countries.

It is partly for these reasons that in terms of provinces, Matabeleland South, which has a lot of mining and transnational movements of people to South Africa, has the highest HIV prevalence in the country at 17.3% while Harare metropolitan province, with less of those activities, has the least, at 8.88%.

In the top four, after Matabeleland South, are Matabeleland North (14.43%) Bulawayo (11.75 %) and the Midlands (11.04%).

The bottom four provinces are Mashonaland East (9.83%), Masvingo (9.58%), Manicaland (9.35%) and Harare. — NewsHawks

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