THE National Aids Council (NAC) has rolled an extensive condom distribution drive in most HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) hotspots in Masvingo in a bid to reduce the high HIV burden in the province.
By Michael Gwarisa in Masvingo province
The initiative comes at the back of indications that the province is lagging behind in terms of condom uptake and usage making it difficult for programmers to realise meaningful results from their efforts as new cases of HIV and STIs are constantly increasing. According to NAC statistics, HIV prevalence in Masvingo province is at 12.8 percent that is out of every 100 people, an average of 12 people are living with HIV.
According to the NAC Provincial Manager for Masvingo, Mr Edgar Muzulu, the HIV hotspots in the province include Chibi Turn-Off (Mhukahuru), Ngundu, Chibi Growth Point, Lundi, Chiredzi, Mhandamabwe in Chibi, Masvingo urban, Jerera Growth Point and Mpandawana Growth point in Gutu.
“In terms of key drivers of HIV in Masvingo province, factors such as multiple concurrent partners, low risk perception, low condom use especially in long term relations, low levels of male circumcision, age mixing or inter-generational relations, and transactional sex are some of the leading causes.
“Our hotspots are Masvingo urban, accounting for quite a number of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), we also have Jerera growth point, Chibi turn off, Ngundu and Chiredzi district also accounting for a number of STIs. For your own information STIs are a proxy to HIV infections,” said Muzulu.
A tour of the province by Editors from various media houses also indicated that the condom dispensers initiative has been well received by patrons from various sites including Truck Inns, Clubs and public hospital. In Chiredzi however, the reopening of Chigarapasi beerhall has led to a spike in STIs in the area according to NAC.
Meanwhile, District Aids Coordinator for Gutu, Mr Pask Mukuwe said they had installed condoms dispensers in four beer and night clubs at Mpandawana Growth point and one at Gutu rural hospital.
“The condom dispensers concept came into play recently. It’s a program targeting our hotspots especially where sex workers run their trade. We know condoms can be accessed in hospitals and other places but this very concept we decided to take it to the places where high sexual activity takes place.
“With this program, we are not anticipating a shortage in condoms even though we are dispensing them for free. We will be replenishing them time and again to ensure they never run out. The program now has two weeks but we a running massive awareness regards the issue,” said Mukuwe.
He added that before the introduction of dispensers, free condoms would be accessed in hospitals. He also said there was high sex work activity in the Gutu area even though some sex workers have devised a new model where they do their trade from the comfort of their homes away from the public eye.
He also bemoaned the surge in the increase in sex workers numbers in Gutu with most of the new sex workers being young and underage girls.
“We now have a sex work sensitisation program where we talk to the girls with the aim of empowering sex workers. We also work in partnership with the ministry of health and child care in HIV treatment and care.
“We also have micro planning which is targeting sex workers where we have opened a clinic meant for sex workers every week on Tuesdays and Friday. The sex workers will be getting drugs tested and getting their medicines to those on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART).”
The condom dispnsers have a capacity to hold plus or minus 600 condoms at any given time and refills are done once the dispenser runs empty.
Meanwhile, DAC for Chivi district, Mr Jonathan Mashingaidze also applauded the Condom dispenser move which he says will go a long was in improving condom uptake in the district. Chivi currently has the highest HIV prevalence in Masvingo province currently standing at 14.6 percent while Bikita has 11 percent.
“We have dispensers at Chibi growth point and at Chibi Turn off. Chibi turn off is a high risk area and a hotspot since most truck drivers sleep over here and it’s a truck in.
“Highway corridors are the biggest hotspots and we are targeting these in our programing to ensure condom uptake increases so as to prevent infection or reinfection,” said Mashingaidze.
A reveler who only identified himself as Evans said they love the dispenser concept.
“I use condoms a lot, I am happy about this new program, at least now we can enjoy knowing very well that we don’t need to worry about buying condoms, we can always get them for free,” said Evans.