More Zimbabweans to get ARVs

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by Own Correspondent

HARARE - Zimbabwe's government plans to increase the number of people on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) to 300 000 this year up from 180 000 currently receiving the life-prolonging drugs, Health Minister Henry Madzorera told ZimOnline on Tuesday.

HIV/AIDS is a major killer in Zimbabwe with the pandemic aggravated by severe poverty and a barely functional public health system in the southern African country that is only beginning to emerge from a decade of acute recession and political turmoil.

Madzorera said the coalition government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would work with international organisations to make more ARVs available to the nearly 400 000 people requiring the drugs.

He said: "The need to improve anti-retroviral drug distribution is on top of government's priority list and (by end of this year) 300 000 people living with HIV will be able to access the life saving drugs.

"We are setting plans with our friendly organisations to overcome the ART challenge .... although it is a long process we aim to achieve the target."

The Harare government has struggled for cash with rich Western donor countries unwilling to avail more financial support to the administration but Madzorera said the US$285.4 million allocated his department in this year's budget would greatly assist the drive to expand distribution of ARVs.

"We want to ensure people living with the HIV countrywide do not travel more than eight kilometres to collect drugs in 2010," he said.

According to United Nations estimates almost 343 600 adults and 35 200 children under 15 years urgently need ARV treatment out of 1.2 million Zimbabweans living with HIV/AIDS.

An estimated 3 000 people out of the total 12 million Zimbabweans die of HIV/AIDS related illnesses every week.

But the country that once boasted one of Africa's best economies and an envied public health delivery system has made some commendable progress fighting HIV/AIDS with the government reporting last September a drop in the infection rate to 13.7 percent from 14.1 percent in 2008.