Turning the Tide Against AIDS in Zimbabwe

Posted by Megan Petersen
November 30, 2012
Dan Rutz of the CDC With Women Journalists in Zimbabwe

As we approach World AIDS Day, which we mark on December 1, I wanted to share a little bit about how we are carrying out the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Zimbabwe.

Every Tuesday morning, the Zimbabwe PEPFAR team gathers. Our meeting consists of colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the embassy's public affairs section, the Global Fund, the Deputy Chief of Mission, and the PEPFAR Coordinator's office. Our discussions are focused on the state of the world through the lens of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

I am always impressed every Tuesday by the passion and expertise each of my colleagues brings to the table, the variety of programs we are managing on account of this teamwork, and the individual lives that are enhanced through this collaborative and coordinated effort.

PEPFAR Zimbabwe has a budget of over $91 million this year. The United States is the largest bilateral donor and a key partner for addressing the 13 percent HIV/AIDS infection rate in Zimbabwe.

While Zimbabwe's HIV infection rate has decreased in the last five years, the government continues to face an uphill battle to turn the tide on the epidemic in order to reach an AIDS-free generation. Some of the major challenges include a dilapidated health infrastructure, frequent power outages, water shortages, poor in-country political leadership, human resource constraints, and limited funding for the health sector from the Government of Zimbabwe. In the face of these challenges, the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health, a variety of NGO partners and the Zimbabwe PEPFAR program continue to make excellent strides in responding to the HIV epidemic and strengthening the health system.

The PEPFAR program is the cornerstone of the Global Health Initiative in Zimbabwe and a meaningful tool for diplomacy as the United States strives to improve health standards in Zimbabwe. Our Ambassador was recently invited to attend the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare's World AIDS Day commemoration in Beitbridge, a town bordering South Africa and a hotspot for sex workers, truckers, and migrant populations. He'll be accompanied by representatives from multiple agencies as he delivers our critical messages to the crowd, sandwiched between traditional dance presentations and poetry, common edutainment techniques in Zimbabwe to disseminate key messages of health information.

Our PEPFAR team appreciates the importance of disseminating key health-related messages. Just recently, we hosted a Centers for Disease Control Atlanta representative, who held discussions with Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health and implementing partners on how we can do better messaging on voluntary male medical circumcision in Zimbabwe: both ensuring that messaging from national level reaches rural health facilities and how to work better with the press.

In addition to media messaging, the PEPFAR team continues to support the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health as it develops its strategy for voluntary medical male circumcision scale-up as a key part of comprehensive HIV prevention in Zimbabwe. The United States is also a key supporter of the national prevention of mother-to-child transmission program, a primary partner for supply chain management and laboratory strengthening, and a main supporter of the University of Zimbabwe's Masters of Public Health Program, which prepares health experts for key leadership roles in Zimbabwe's health sector.

The Zimbabwe PEPFAR program continues to demonstrate our nation's concern for the needs of the Zimbabwean people and our commitment to Zimbabwe's national HIV/AIDS response. And when I walk into that room every Tuesday morning and see my colleagues' faces, I'm reminded of -- and motivated by -- the steps we must continue to take to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Related Content: World AIDS Day 2012 -- PEPFAR's Blueprint for an AIDS-Free Generation

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