Changing Sexual Habits To Decrease In Recorded HIV Cases

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Economic decline fueled by rising inflation in Zimbabwe has changed thesexual habits of some men in the country, which might be contributingto the decreasing number of HIV cases recorded in the country, someresearchers have said recently, the Washington Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 7/13).

Zimbabwe'sinflation rate -- which is more than 1,700% -- has led to shortages offoreign exchange, food and fuel, and rising unemployment and poverty.About 3,000 Zimbabweans die weekly from AIDS-related illnesses, and onein four children in the country has lost one or both parents to thedisease, according to UNICEF (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report,3/19). About one in five Zimbabwean adults is living with HIV, butrecent surveys show that HIV cases have decreased in recent years. Themost recent nationwide survey, which was conducted in 2005 and 2006,estimated the country's adult HIV prevalence at 18.1%. Researchers saythat the prevalence peaked a few years earlier at 25%, according to thePost.

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HIV/AIDS advocates and some researchers formany years have said that Africa's high poverty rates are contributingto the spread of HIV on the continent because poor medical care andhunger place people at an increased risk of the virus, while povertymakes some women resort to commercial sex work. However, Zimbabwe's"experience shows that the connection between AIDS and economics is notnearly so straightforward," according to the Post. WhileZimbabwe has "made strides against HIV during eight years of steeprecession," wealthier neighboring countries, such as Botswana and SouthAfrica, have "struggled to curb" new cases "despite much higher levelsof development and massive spending on the disease," the Post reports.

Someresearchers believe that economic growth -- seen in rising trucktraffic, growing bar scenes and an increasing income disparity --encourage behavior that can fuel the spread of sexually transmittedinfections. However, low-income men in Zimbabwe "pare back" suchbehavior, which also includes having multiple sex partners, making themless likely to contract or spread HIV, the Post reports.According to surveys, men in Zimbabwe reported having fewergirlfriends, fewer visits to commercial sex workers and less casualsex. They also reported that they are abandoning what Zimbabweans call"small houses" -- a practice where married men pay rent and otherliving expenses for a second or third regular sex partner. According tothe Post, condoms rarely are used in these situations, "creating webs of unprotected sex easily infiltrated by HIV."

Godrey Woelk, an epidemiologist at the University of Zimbabwe,said, "Having a lot of girlfriends or having 'small houses', you've gotto have a degree of disposable income." He added, "Being poor and beingin love does not really work." Elliot Mandaza, a pastor at New Life Covenant Churchin Harare, said few men can afford to have several sex partners. Thepractice is "by and large now the preserve of the wealthy," he said,adding, "You have a 'small house' if you have the money" (Washington Post, 7/13).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyHIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . TheKaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service ofThe Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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