Zimbabwe + 1 more

SA urged to avail ARVs to Zim asylum seekers

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by Tendai Hungwe

JOHANNESBURG - A health expert this week called on South Africa to provide free anti-retroviral (ARV) and tuberculosis (TB) drugs to Zimbabwean asylum seekers and other refugees who are often unable to access these at public hospitals.

Speaking at a meeting of the AIDS Consortium in Johannesburg, Celine Gounder said South Africa had one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world and the large numbers of immigrants - some of who were infected - flocking into the country daily complicated efforts to fight the scourge.

The AIDS Consortium is a group of organisations and individuals involved in HIV/AIDS work.

"What is making it more challenging and difficult to give treatment to infected people is the fact that there are a lot of mobile people as they move with diseases with them especially these airborne diseases and it is also difficult to give descent services as you cannot track them all,'' Gounder told the Consortium.

Zimbabweans fleeing their home country because of political turmoil and hunger make a huge percentage of immigrants living in South Africa. But a huge majority of the Zimbabweans leave in South Africa illegally and cannot visit public hospitals for medication when sick.

Gounder, an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist at America's John Hopkins University, said: "Undocumented Zimbabweans, estimated in their millions should be another great challenge, but this can however be addressed when the relevant authorities issue them with rightful papers as well as allowing them access medication at our hospitals."

Once a model African economy, Zimbabwe is in the grip of an unprecedented economic recession seen in hyperinflation, shortages of food, rising unemployment and poverty and that has forced nearly a quarter of the country's 12 million population to flee abroad in search of better living conditions.

Western governments and the opposition MDC party blame President Robert Mugabe - in power since 1980 - for ruining the economy through repression and wrong policies.

Mugabe denies ruining the economy and instead says his country's problems are because of sanctions and sabotage by Britain and its Western allies opposed to his land reforms