According to the research done by the Imperial College in London and released on Tuesday, Zimbabweans 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 also found out that influence of rigorous public educational programmes sponsored by various donor organisations also 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.
“Given the continuing, and worrying, trend for high HIV/AIDS infection rates in many sub-Saharan African countries, we felt it was important to understand why the disease has taken such a dramatic downturn in Zimbabwe. 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 it’s direct and underlying causes,” said Professor Simon Gregson, who was part of the research team based at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.
Another research team member, Timothy Hallett, also based at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London said regional countries should learn from the study and halt HIV and AIDS infection
“The HIV epidemic is still very large, with more than one in 10 adults infected today. We hope that Zimbabwe – and other countries in southern Africa – can learn from these lessons and strengthen programmes to drive infections down even further,” said Hallett.
Zimbabwe had one of the biggest HIV and AIDS rates in the world over a decade ago. But these huge infection rates have been cut into half from 29 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 2007. This the study said happened against a backdrop of a debilitating background of massive social, political, and economic instability in the country.
In 2003 Zimbabwe was estimated to have 1.8 million people infected with HIV/AIDS out of a population of 12 million.
The study further stated that the difficult economic environment played a key role and resulted in a reduction in the number of multiple partners that a man could have at the same time. It became difficult for the men to keep pace with their wallets. More so the study said the high literacy rates helped to sink the HIV and AIDS message among the Zimbabwean population.
The study was done in Zimbabwe over the last twenty years with the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations HIV-AIDS Programme (UNAIDS), Zimbabwean Ministry for Health and Child Welfare and Wellcome Trust.