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MSF in Zimbabwe, 2001
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New Mission Joins Fight Against AIDS
Zimbabwe has been gripped by the AIDS crisis. As in so many countries in southern Africa, the statistics are numbing. Over 25% of the adult population has AIDS. The disease has already claimed the lives of half a million people, out of a population of 12 million. Yet the AIDS epidemic has not been a priority for the government, which is preoccupied with other domestic and international affairs and has made little effort to implement an effective national AIDS policy. To help cope with this, MSF launched a program focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in October 2000. MSF works at the Inyathi hospital in the district of Bubi in Matebeleland North province, which had the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country in 1998. Little international aid has been directed here. MSF has begun working with local health authorities to improve strategies and techniques for dealing with the epidemic. MSF is also trying to increase knowledge of HIV/AIDS among the general population, through bottle stores—places where people often meet for a drink—and by the creation of an HIV/AIDS resource center, where voluntary testing and counseling are also offered.
One of MSF's key partners in Bubi is Bekezela, an NGO created by the local community. This organization has taken on AIDS-related challenges such as health education, and has established a network of village volunteers who visit AIDS patients and their families.
Nevirapine, an antiretroviral drug, has recently been registered in Zimbabwe. In this country where 100 babies are born with the virus every day, MSF is preparing a pilot program targeting mother-to-child transmission of HIV using Nevirapine. Yet, in general, introduction of antiretroviral drugs in Zimbabwe is still at a very early stage. MSF is supporting Zimbabwean health authorities in their efforts to obtain information on drug prices and on ways to get access to affordable treatments.