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Decline In Zimbabwe's Health System, Increased Focus On Cholera Exacerbating HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Report Says

October 20, 2017

The decline in Zimbabwe's health care system and increased focus on cholera and other diseases are exacerbating the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a report released last week by Physicians for Human Rights, the Cape Times reports.

According to the report, titled "Health in the Ruins: A Man-Made Crisis in Zimbabwe," increased efforts to treat cholera and other infectious diseases present an "acute" threat to inpatient AIDS care in Zimbabwe. In addition, the PHR team conducting the report received reports from donors that more than 73 million South African rand, or about $7.3 million, in aid for antiretrovirals had been stolen or intercepted by government officials. In addition, antiretroviral programs in Zimbabwe are not enrolling new patients, and physicians have reported changing established antiretroviral regimens because "supplies were too low to give patients the usual three-month supplies" of treatment, according to David Sanders, who was part of the PHR team and is head of the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape.

Sanders added that irregular access to antiretrovirals in Zimbabwe has led to the emergence of drug-resistant strains of HIV that likely have crossed into South Africa. "I think it's highly likely that given the interruptions [in treatment] ... that HIV resistance to first-line drugs has been created and is likely to be in South Africa," Sanders said. The report recommended that a qualified agent take over Zimbabwe's health system and that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe be tried for crimes against humanity.

More than 800,000 people in the country are in need of antiretroviral drugs; however, only 205,000 are receiving them, the Times reports. PHR estimates that up to 400 AIDS-related deaths occur daily in Zimbabwe (Taylor, Cape Times, 1/16).

The report is available online.

NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Thursday included a discussion about the PHR report (Cohen, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 1/15).

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