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Bulilima, Tsholotsho dominate Zimbabwe HIV infections

by Staff reporter
03 Dec 2023 at 10:35hrs | Views
BULILIMA and Tsholotsho districts in Matebeleland North Province have been identified as the leading hotspots in HIV infections in the country with calls for strengthening community engagements and use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as key elements in reducing new infections.

Matebeleland North Province has an HIV prevalence of 15,5 percent which is relatively high compared to the national prevalence of 11,1 percent while Matebeleland South stands at 18 percent. PrEP, an HIV prevention method where a person who is at risk of infection takes antiretrovirals for prevention during the periods when they are at risk. Various methods are available such as the vaginal ring, injectable and oral drugs. Provincial Manager for National Aids Council in Matebeleland North Mr Dingaan Ncube said the prevalence varies across the province.

"We have the least being 6,4 percent in Binga District and the highest being Tsholotsho at 22,9 percent. Tsholotsho has the second highest HIV prevalence in the county. In terms of incidence, it is still relatively high compared to the national one.

"We have an incidence of 2,6 percent in the province with Umguza District having the highest at 0,36 percent followed by Tsholotsho. These statistics explain where most of our problem areas are in terms of HIV, this is mainly in Umguza which is contributing a significantly high number of new HIV infections," said Mr Ncube.

Bulilima District recorded a 21,8 percent prevalent rate in the 15 to 49 years age group, which is regarded as high. The high figures have been attributed to mining activities in Umguza where artisanal miners popularly known as otsheketsha/amakoroza are said to be engaging in risky behaviour which is fuelling the spread of HIV. Mr Ncube, however said, worryingly, the new infections were coming largely from young people particularly adolescent girls and young women aged between 15 and 24. In Tsholotsho District the largest contributing factor has been spousal separation.

"This is where we have high infections. The most affected is the male adult population above 35 to 49 years. This is where we also have the highest number of new HIV infections in the province. In Tsholotsho it is mainly because of spousal separation, most males in Tsholotsho either work predominantly in South Africa and Botswana and their spouses are resident in the country. This is why we have this significant increase in the number of new infections," said Mr Ncube.
Other factors that are contributing to an increase in new infections include low condom use.

"The omalayitsha phenomenon is playing a contributing role. They do cross-border activities, transporting the migrant population from Tsholotsho to South Africa, a large number of them are undocumented. Most of them stay in areas that are not accessible to HIV services or health services in South Africa and when they return home they have limited information on HIV and Sexual Transmitted Infections and they indulge in unprotected sex and have a low risk perception," he said.

Mr Ncube said the province was strengthening interventions that would aid in preventing new infections.

"We have intensified our Brother2Brother models and general male engagement. Brother2 Brother takes a mentorship approach where we want to capacitate men to understand the risk issues around HIV and Aids in the province. We also have programmes that are running across the district for adolescent girls and young women. Much of our new infections are predominantly among them and this is where we have a major challenge.

Our focus therefore, has to do with information dissemination, mentorship and capacitation of the girls and young women particularly on how they can protect themselves. We have intensified issues to do with PrEP HIV programming and condom use," said Mr Ncube.

NAC said new infections in the province were also fuelled by Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The province is working with various stakeholders and Government departments to raise awareness against GBV which is also prevalent in the mining communities.

Source - The Sunday News