Gold and Love to fight HIV

For the past three decades, the world has been engaged in the fight against HIV and Aids.

An Aids vaccine appears to be a long shot at the moment and in the meantime, scientists are keenly looking at other options that could prevent HIV.

Though the numbers of people succumbing to the disease are drastically going down, the fight against HIV is still game on.

Among all the proved preventative measures against contracting the virus, the usage of the condom takes the crown — being the “safest” and the most assured method for both sexes.

However, house parties have become very attractive to impressionable adolescents and youth who risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) as well as HIV in the process.

Scales seems to have tipped against the youth who are still recording high cases of STIs.

According to national statistics for the 2017, new STI cases recorded nationwide are 176 821 with Masvingo province recording more cases of 31 408 and Matebeleland North with fewer cases of 9 546. HIV incidence rate between the 15 to 49 age group stood at 0, 48 percent in 2017.

Overally, the country recorded 181 154 cases of STIs in 2016.

In the year 2015, the country recorded a total of 288 127 STI cases while in 2014 268 353 cases were recorded (NAC Report).

The Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) joined the fight against new STIs and HIV infections by launching a new condom last year that is being distributed for free countrywide.

A product of Karex Industries in Malaysia, Icon Gold has unique features that makes it appealing to youths and adolescents.

Icon Gold’s unique features are that it is thin, hence enhancing sexual sensitivity. It is large in size and contains natural rubber latex.

National Aids Council Harare provincial Aids manager, Mr Adonija Muzondiona, said the coming on board of Icon Gold would add value to the public sector.

“Icon Gold is the perfect condom for the youth because it will protect them from getting infected,” said Mr Muzondiona.

“The packaging is very appealing to the young and older men, it’s very thin such that you don’t even feel it. It’s also bigger than the standard size. However, even though condoms work, the youth still need to work on being faithful, abstaining and get circumcised.”

Mr Muzondiona, however, has reservations about the Icon Gold.

“My major concern is that it’s not flavoured,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s HIV prevention strategy recognises the central role that condoms play in the prevention of HIV where majority of infections are transmitted through sexual contact.

Besides condoms, men have an alternative for male circumcision as tools for HIV prevention.

Inter-generational relationships, sexual abuse, low-risk perception, adolescents not empowered to negotiate for safe sex, nude parties, peer pressure and economic challenges have been attributed to as the key drivers to high numbers of STI and HIV cases.

The high numbers in STIs across the country automatically points to the prevalence of unprotected sex being practiced despite the HIV dangers it poses.

“Due to economic challenges, a number of adolescents are indulging in unprotected sex in inter-generational relationships where they lack the power and skills to negotiate for safe sex,” he added.

The rise in STI cases in the country are a contradiction to the assertion that Zimbabwe’s condom usage now tops that of any other country in the world, with over 113 million condoms used in 2017. Mr Muzondiona, however has a different view.

“New STI cases recorded in Harare alone are 25 607 from as high as 40 000 in previous years so this is a decent decline, condoms contribution being a proxy assumption,” he explained.

On the sidelines of International Condom Day commemorations in Caledonia, Harare last week, AHF Zimbabwe country programmes manager Dr Ernest Chikwati said they were happy to be distributing Icon Gold and Love condoms for free in a bid to help youths stay free from new infections.

“In the fight against HIV, condoms have always been there. They remain an important component in a comprehensive and sustainable approach to the prevention of HIV and other STIs and are effective for preventing unintended pregnancies. This is the reason why we at AHF say ‘Condoms are Always in Fashion’,” said Dr Chikwati.

“Condoms are under attack in the realm of global public health with governments and international agencies slashing funds.

“And to counter for that, as AHF, we have created what we call the Condom Bank to fulfill the need if it arises in a certain country.”

According to the National Aids Council 2017 annual report, female condoms had an uptake of 4 617 984 against 108 923 741 male condoms.

However, there was an increase in the uptake of male condoms from 10 million in 2016 to nearly 109 million in 2017.

In Africa approximately 60 percent of new infections in the 15-24 year age group occur among girls and young women, where unprotected heterosexual sex is the primary driver of the epidemic.

And women are often not able to get their partners to use condoms.

In Zimbabwe, HIV-positive girls and women in this age group outnumber males three to one.

It’s imperative to increase supplies and varieties in this sector as only 54 percent of the country’s condom needs are met,” added Mr Muzondiona.

“It’s also been noted that over 77 percent of market share of condoms are accessed through the public sector marketing distribution systems.”

Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in Africa that have scored successes in the fight against the HIV and Aids pandemic on the back of the innovative Aids levy.

Despite Zimbabwe being regarded as an internationally acclaimed best practice in condom distribution, gaps in consistent condom use persist, particularly within concurrent sexual relationships.

Government, however, says it remains committed to the national response and has put in place appropriate policies, strategies, structures and instruments to ensure the country achieves the 90-90-90 target. In 2017, Government through the Health and Child Care ministry and the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council launched the second National Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health Strategy (2016-2020) on the backdrop of both national and international recognition of the plight of adolescent and young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years in relation to their sexual and reproductive health challenges.

At the launch, Health Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said Government is concerned about the high rate of STIs and pregnancies among youths.

“The blueprint intends to improve the service provision of adolescent sexual reproductive health and development of young people in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“While viewed as one homogenous group, in reality adolescents and young people are an enormously diverse group, not only in aspects of age and gender but also in the context of ability, beliefs, nature of circumstances and vulnerabilities they experience hence the need for the ASRH strategy.”

HIV poses as a huge threat around the world with 35 million people living with the disease while 1,5 million people die from it every year.

However, this is in spite of new infections falling by 33 percent since 2001 due to the availability of ARVs.

Annually, HIV-related deaths have declined since 2004.

Dr Chikwati, however, added that there is need for more sexual education among young people.

“There is need for more sexual education about the dangers of engaging in unprotected sex by all stakeholders involved,” he added.

Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence stands at 14 percent.

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