AS Zimbabwe inches closer towards controlling the AIDS epidemic, the National AIDS Council (NAC) in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), have launched the Zimbabwe Informal Economy HIV and AIDS Strategy (2022-2025).
By Michael Gwarisa
The strategy seeks amongst other things to empower and provide comprehensive HIV services to all levels of workers and other persons in the informal sector with the aim of creating an environment that will lead to a reduction in new HIV infections in working environments.
Standing in for Minister Sithembiso Nyoni, Mr Tabani Shoko the Registrar of Corporate Societies in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, said the informal sector was an HIV high risk group and crafting an informal sector specific strategy was a step in the right direction.
Investment in the AIDS response has changed the face of the epidemic in Zimbabwe. Today I am pleased that we are launching a strategy that is specifically targeting the informal economy. Over the years, the informal economy has been lagging behind in the HIV response yet it now constitutes the majority of employment and most of people being exposed to HIV due to the nature of their jobs,” said Mr Shoko.
He said the new strategy recognizes the role of the informal economy in economic growth and aims at ensuring access to HIV services and commodities to employees within the informal sector.
“Despite remarkable progress, if we do not continue to commit ourselves, there is a danger in the epidemic rebounding. The 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms the global commitment to ending the epidemic by 2030 and we must a radical change within the next five year if we are to achieve that goal.
“This requires commitment at every level, I therefore call on NAC to enforce and expand the unique interventions and multi sector approach. It needs continued advocacy to the most vulnerable groups and approaches that promote gender equality and empower women. It means leaving no behind and that everyone affected must access to the comprehensive HIV services without discrimination.”
Development of the Informal Economy HIV and AIDS Strategy 2022-2025 was informed by the Zimbabwe HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan IV (ZINASP IV). The strategy applies to all workers classified as the informal economy.
Dr Annamarie Kiaga, the International Labour Organisation Specialist on Informal Economy said Zimbabwe has a growing informal economy whose vulnerability to HIV and AIDS cannot be underestimated.
“How the HIV and AIDS strategy intersects with the formalization strategy to ensure an integrated and human centered strategy is critical. If left unattended, discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS will threaten fundamental rights at work and undermine opportunities for more than 76 percent of workers in Zimbabwe depending on the opportunities for informal economy workers to access decent employment,” said Dr Kiaga.
She added that for the 95-95-95 Universal coverage targets in workplaces to be reached, particularly in light of the COVID-19, more still needs to be done. This is acknowledged by the United Nations (UN) in Zimbabwe, as reflected in the Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2022-2026 signed in October 2021.
“In addition, the ILO in its draft Decent Work Country programme, 2022-2026 prioritizes the development of national, sectoral and enterprise level HIV/AIDS workplace policies and the implementation of workplace programmes in line with recommendation 200 on HIV and AIDS.”
A situation analysis that was conducted by NAC revealed that HIV was having a severe impact on the informal sector and this could have a negative impact on the economy if it goes unchecked. Speaking at the launch, NAC Acting Chief Executive Officer, Mr Raymond Yekeye said the informal sector was lagging behind with regards to health interventions and the past decade has seen the informal economy grow and accounting for the bulk of employment in Zimbabwe.
“However, the informal economy has not been adequately targeted within the range of national efforts to fight HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and non-communicable diseases. In line with the national and global goal of leaving no one behind and ending AIDS by 2030, the role of the informal economy is strongly acknowledged, hence the need to safeguard the sector through ensuring comprehensive HIV and AIDS programmers and services.
“The ZNASP 1V (2021-2025) recognizes the need to empower all sectors through their networks and organizations in order to challenge the impact of HIV and AIDS in institutions. It is against this background that NAC in collaboration with informal economy associations and other partners embarked on developing an HIV and AIDS Strategy for the informal economy which is being launched today,” said Mr Yekeye.
Making Commitments on behalf of the Zimbabwe Informal Council On HIV and AIDS, Ms Lorraine Sibanda, president for the Zimbabwe Chamber of the Informal Economy said the fight against the impact of HIV and AIDS in the workplace was critical.
“The fight against the impact of HIV and AIDS in the World of Work more-so in the Informal Economy remains key as we target ending AIDS by 2030. It is against this backdrop, that a study was initiated within the informal economy in order to establish the degree of HIV and AIDS’s impact in Zimbabwe. I acknowledge, recognise and appreciate the support we got from NAC and the ILO. Lets give them a round of applause,” she said.
The informal economy in Zimbabwe is comprised of various forms of trades including Vending, cross border trade, artisanal mining, steel fabrication, transport, baking, sewing and many other small scale manufacturing projects like carpentry, detergent manufacture, leather processing and peanut butter processing, among others. Ms Sibanda added the informal economy has hoardes of challenges; including exposure to biological hazards and sometimes subjected exposure to biological hazards- HIV to be quite specific.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has made in reduction of new HIV infections. Between 2016 and 2020, total annual new infections fell from 40,900 in 2016 to 24,900 in 2020. Still, HIV prevalence remains high around 11.8% average, predominantly affecting women (14.8%) compared to 8.6 % among men. HIV prevalence is almost twice as high in females aged 15-24 years (5.2%) than their male counterparts (2.9%). The number of people living with HIV is estimated at 1.3 million of which 1.2 million are adults aged 15-49 years. Children under the age of 15 account for 6.2% (78,700) of all people living with HIV.