|Mugabe appeals for private sector help in AIDS war (2004-06-16)|
|HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe urged the private sector on Wednesday to help his cash-strapped government provide essential drugs to combat an AIDS pandemic he described as one of the greatest challenges facing the country.|
Official figures show that 24.6 percent of Zimbabwe’s adult population is infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, one of the highest rates in the world. The number of HIV/AIDS cases in Zimbabwe rose to about 1.8 million in 2003, 18 years after the first AIDS sufferer was detected in 1985.
"There is no doubt that HIV and AIDS is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. The disease does not respect status, it does not respect colour… It is a war that belongs to all of us," Mugabe told Zimbabwe’s first national conference on the pandemic.
Mugabe’s government, presiding over the country’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, has allotted Z$15 billion ($2.8 million) this year for the procurement of anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS patients in public hospitals but at current prices this can only benefit some 10,000 patients.
"We appeal for the greater participation of the private sector. I believe there is scope for (the) government and the pharmaceutical companies to work together so as to bring the prices of the drugs down and enable more of our people to benefit," Mugabe said.
Health ministry officials say up to 3,000 people in Zimbabwe die of AIDS-related illnesses each week, and figures released at the first day of the conference on Tuesday showed that 135,000 succumbed to the pandemic last year alone.
About 166,000 new HIV infections were recorded in 2003, while 138,000 new cases of full-blown AIDS were reported.
The disease has added on to the woes of a country grappling with its worst economic crisis since independence, manifesting itself in chronic shortages of foreign currency, fuel and food, high inflation and unemployment, and collapsing health services.
Mugabe’s government denies accusations it has lacked the political will to effectively deal with the AIDS crisis and last month began distributing cheaper, locally manufactured anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to combat the disease. Prior to the programme, only Zimbabwe’s elite could access imported drugs.
Mugabe’s government rejects critics’ charges that it has mismanaged the country over the past 24 years, and argues that opponents of its controversial seizure of white-owned farms for landless blacks have sabotaged the economy.