Zimbabwe on Thursday received 15 million dollars worth of anti-retroviral drugs from the United States government to bolster its fight against HIV and AIDS, officials announced. Under the deal, the United States will provide Zimbabwe with anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) for 40,000 people as well as HIV rapid test kits for three years.
Health Minister David Parirenyatwa commended the donation by the US government, which has frosty relations with the government of President Robert Mugabe, and appealed to other donors to follow suit.
"There is a huge gap and that huge gap needs to be filled and we were delighted when you came in and offered what you offered to us," Parirenyatwa said at a ceremony which was also attended by US ambassador Christopher Dell.
He said 340,000 people are currently in need of ARVs, adding that only 81,000 people are currently accessing free anti-retrovirals provided by the government. The government hopes to increase the number of people on free treatment to 120,000 by the end of the year.
Dell said the deal would benefit people who are already benefitting from free anti-retroviral programmes. "We hope that during that time, other donors and the (UN) Global Fund will be in a position to provide additional assistance," he said.
Zimbabwe's HIV prevalence rate has dropped from 24.6 percent in 2003, through 20.1 percent in 2005 and to about 18.1 percent.
Zimbabwe is one of the countries hardest hit by the HIV and AIDS pandemic with at least 3,000 people dying weekly from AIDS-related illness -- or about one person every three minutes -- according to the National AIDS Council.
The country has also experienced an upsurge in number of TB cases linked to HIV and AIDS. A Swiss-based pharmaceutical company, Roche, last month signed a deal with a local drug company Varichem pharmaceutical for the production of a generic anti-retroviral. Varichem will produce Saquinavir, the HIV drugs, for supply throughout Zimbabwe.