Military hit by HIV scourge

Godfrey Marawanyika

THE country’s military has been hard hit by the deadly HIV/Aids epidemic, which has become the biggest cause of death among servicemen, a report supported by the United Nations Developmen

t Programme (UNDP) has revealed.


According to the Zimbabwe Human Development Report for 2003, 75% of Zimbabwean soldiers die of Aids within a year of being discharged.


“A study in seven countries including Zimbabwe found that 75% of soldiers were dying of Aids within one year of discharge,” the report said.


The report said the security sector was severely affected by HIV/Aids. The prevalence of HIV is higher than in the general population, the report says.


“The nature of the staff recruitment and operations make the sector highly vulnerable to HIV and Aids. The sector thrives on engaging the young and socially inexperienced,” the report says.


Zimbabwe has an estimated 1 820 000 people who are HIV-positive.

The HIV infection rate is 24,6% and it is estimated that by the end of last year, 761 000 children would be orphaned by Aids.


Zimbabwe is losing at least 3 000 able-bodied individuals to the disease weekly, which poses one of the major challenges for business development in the country, according to Health ministry figures.


The report said that the discipline in the military was a positive aspect that could be harnessed for a revised response to the Aids scourge.


The Poverty Reduction Forum and the Institute of Development Studies, supported by the UNDP, compiled the report.


The report said conditions in the prison system had deteriorated largely due to over crowding and the economic crisis.


“Vulnerability has, in turn, increased as non-consensual, and transactional sex become control mechanisms and survival strategies of inmates and wardens,” the report said.


“The amnesty system increases vulnerability of communities as former inmates with higher HIV prevalence rejoin the communities. Reducing vulnerability of prisons, therefore, requires that internal and external factors be considered,” it said.


As far back as 1996, 72% of prison deaths were reported to be Aids-related.


“A study over a period of three years (1999-2001) by the chief Zimbabwe Prison Service public relations officer revealed that 1 051 Aids-related deaths had occurred.”


Last month the South African-based Institute for Correctional Studies suggested that as part of minimising the spread of HIV/Aids inmates be given condoms.


The institute also recommended that inmates be allowed conjugal visits.

The report said that the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s capacity to deliver the organisation’s mandate was now showing signs of erosion as members “succumb to HIV-related illness and deaths”.


The report also criticised the country’s private sector for not taking a sufficiently active part in the fight against HIV/Aids.