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HIV rate lowered in Zimbabwe because of education campaign, scientists say

posted 11 Feb 2011, 04:14 by Mpelembe   [ updated 11 Feb 2011, 04:17 ]

Education is credited with dramatically lowering the rate of HIV infections in Zimbabwe. New research published this week in a British medical journal shows numbers of Zimbabweans infected halfed between 1997 and 2007.

A nation wide education campaign has been credited with driving down the rate of HIV infections in Zimbabwe, offering important lessons on how to fight the AIDS epidemic in the rest of Africa, scientists said on Tuesday (February 08).

In a study in the journal PLoS Medicine, researchers at the British university Imperial College London said Zimbabwe's epidemic was one of the biggest in the world until the rate of people infected with HIV almost halved, from 29 percent of the population in 1997 to 16 percent in 2007.

Their findings show that Zimbabweans have primarily been motivated to change their sexual behavior because of increased awareness about AIDS deaths which heightened their fears of catching the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it.

"There are several factors to which this decline is attributed to but definitely we know that in Zimbabwe, since the institution of NAC, the National Aids Council we have a more co-ordinated approach towards implementation of HIV/AIDS programmes," said Monica Mandiki, Southern Africa HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Services Director who runs a clinic in the capital Harare.

Doctors and health workers now want to take the campaign to schools and youth to target younger generations.

"We are going to have a big programme that is going to look at youth reproduction and sexual health, which is an area which we say, even as HIV/AIDS programmes we have seen that we need to integrate for better impact, so most of our programmes we have to ensure that we look at the broader health issues, reproductive issues, we look at tuberculosis." Mandiki said.

The Imperial College researchers found that in Zimbabwe, a change in attitudes towards numbers of sexual partners was helped by HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, which were reinforced through mass media, church leaders and employers.

A big part of the education campaign has been posters and billboards put up in public places, in an effort to reach as much as the public as possible. While some focus on persuading people against having multiple sexual partners others focus on male circumcision, found to be one of the most effective ways to limit the infection risk.

The poor economic situation in Zimbabwe from the early 2000s would also have driven down the number of concurrent partners a man could have, due to constraints on his wallet, researchers said.