Fear of infection drives HIV decline in Zimbabwe
7 March 2011
A huge drop in the numbers of people infected with HIV in Zimbabwe is due to mass social change, driven by fear of infection, according to an international study reported on 9 February in the journal PLoS Medicine. The scientists unravelling the reasons behind this unexpected downturn have revealed what they hope are the most important lessons in the fight against the disease for the rest of Africa.
Zimbabwe’s epidemic was one of the biggest in the world until the number of people infected with HIV in Zimbabwe almost halved, from 29 per cent to 16 per cent, between 1997 and 2007. Remarkably, this occurred against a background of massive social, political and economic disruption in the country.
The study’s findings strongly show that people in Zimbabwe have primarily been motivated to change their sexual behaviour because of improved public awareness of AIDS deaths and a subsequent fear of contracting the virus. The researchers found that other important drivers have been the influence of education programmes that have shifted people’s attitudes towards having multiple, concurrent sexual partners in extramarital, commercial and casual relations, and increased the acceptability of using condoms for casual sex.
Senior investigator on the study, Professor Simon Gregson (Public Health), said: “Very few other countries around the world have seen reductions in HIV infection and, of all African nations, Zimbabwe was thought least likely to see such a turnaround. This is why there was such an urgent need to understand its direct and underlying causes.”
— Simon Levey, Communications and Development