Zimbabwe AIDS prevalence rate falls further

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HARARE, Nov 2 (Reuters) Zimbabwe's HIV prevalence rate has continued falling and now stands at less than 16 per cent from more than 18 per cent last year, government figures in the southern African country showed.

''We should caution ourselves that this is still an alarming figure that we must address,'' Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said in a statement yesterday.

Despite years of economic recession, Zimbabwe has become one of the few success spots in battling the AIDS epidemic on the worst affected continent. HIV prevalence has fallen for six years and the figures showed it at 15.6 per cent of 15-49 year olds in 2007 compared to 18.1 per cent the year before.

Health officials say the drop is the result of government programmes encouraging people to use condoms and have fewer sexual partners. Access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs has also improved.

The official Herald newspaper quoted Owen Mugurungi, head of Zimbabwe's AIDS and TB unit, as saying the number of people dying of AIDS each week was down to 2,214 from a peak of 2,500 in the late 1990s, when one in four Zimbabweans was infected.

Zimbabwe's drive to increase access to anti-retroviral drugs has been hampered, however, by a severe shortage of foreign currency resulting from the economic crisis.

Of the 1.3 million people living with HIV and AIDS, 86,000 are on anti-retroviral therapy while 260,000 people who need the treatment have no access.

UNICEF said last year Zimbabwe had the world's highest percentage of children orphaned by AIDS, with one in four children having lost at least one parent to the disease.

UNICEF says Zimbabwe continues to lead in the care of the orphans and vulnerable children, with 90 per cent of the country's orphans having been absorbed into extended families.

REUTERS SZ HS0938

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