Forget about rampant inflation, high unemployment, or the fact that more than one million people need food aid. Forget that you are lucky to live beyond 34. Zimbabweans just love sex. That is the impression one gets when one looks at the amount of money being poured into HIV/Aids when an estimated 1.4 million are said to have no food.
The major food donor, the World Food Programme, last month said it might cut down the number of people it fed because it did not have enough food for an estimated 1.4 million that needed it until the end of March next year when the current season’s harvest is expected to start rolling in.
It said that it would require US$16 million to purchase 26 000 tonnes of grain needed to meet the anticipated shortfall.
At about the same time Britain said it had awarded 20 million pounds (US$38.7 million ) to Zimbabwe to fight the HIV and Aids epidemic. The disease currently affects 1.8 million people. The money would be used to distribute more than 250 million condoms through 700 hair saloons over the next five years. International Development Secretary Hilary Benn was even quoted as saying: “People should not die because they have sex.”
As if to support the appropriateness of the donation, the Sunday Mail reported that Zimbabwe led the world in the use of condoms. Some 163 million male condoms and 3.8 million female condoms- the highest in the world- had been sold in Zimbabwe over the past five years.
While the HIV/Aids epidemic has devastated the country, Zimbabwe is reportedly winning the war against HIV/AIDS. Prevalence is reported to have declined to 18.1 percent from over 30 percent at one stage.
But some 3 200 people are still reportedly dying each week, a figure controversial Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube says is higher than the deaths in Sudan’s war torn Darfur region.
This has prompted some Aids activists to question why so many people are still dying while the prevalence rate is reportedly declining. Others are questioning the efficacy of aid, who this aid actually benefits, and who determines who needs what.
South African Aids activist, Theo Smart, in an article entitled: Zimbabwe observes a reduction in HIV prevalence, but why said while there had been a substantial reduction in national HIV prevalence it could not all be attributed to the ABC ( Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condoms). The extremely high mortality rate could also have contributed greatly to the reduction in prevalence, he argued.
“Mortality plays more than one part in this, because it doesn’t only decrease prevalence directly, it can decrease incidence as well, by decreasing the pool of infectious individuals who can spread the infection,” Smart argued, citing several case studies that were released at the 2006 HIV/Aids Implementers Meeting of the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief that was held in Durban early this year.
“This is particularly the case when most of those who have died are men because infected men are much more likely than women to spread the infection to more than one partner.”
He also said Zimbabwe’s economic decline over the past seven years could have played a part.
“The collapsing economy could have additional effects that could decrease mobility, and therefore risk of HIV infection,” he said. “Unemployment has sky-rocketed in Zimbabwe, and there have been major petrol shortages.”
“The commercial mining sector has collapsed, and factory work has evaporated. Cities no longer offer much work. So as a result of Zimbabwe’s economic contraction, many of the old hotspots for HIV transmission – near the factories and mines, at truck stops along the highway – could be dwindling or people no longer have a reason or the means to go there…
“It’s important to remember that this is, after all, Zimbabwe. Since the year 2000, Zimbabwe’s economy has ground to a halt; the country suffered from floods, followed by severe drought and endemic food insecurity. In this context it is odd, to say the least, that the official mortality rate reported peaked before all that trouble began. But even if famine and inflation didn’t increase the numbers of people dying, the calamity would have increased the costs of caring for a person with HIV tremendously.”
Smart argued that the stigma attached to people with HIV/Aids was an effective deterrent on its own as people with HIV/Aids had been various describes as being “in the departure lounge”, or having “crossed the red robot” or “bewitched by goblins”. These were all things very few people wanted to be associated with and therefore would not take that route.
He, however, stressed that this was not to say that ABC strategies did not work. But a balanced prevention campaign was needed.
Those who argue that aid is not working in Africa, even in the case of Aids, said most of the money reportedly being poured into the disease was trickling back to the donor countries.
Michael Holman, former Africa editor of the Financial Times said in an article in The Africa Report of last month that the irony about the aid industry into Africa was that an estimated US$4 million was spent annually to recruit 100 000 expatriates while at the same time about 70 000 skilled Africans such as doctors, nurses and engineers, left to work abroad.
“The multi-billion dollar aid industry has largely failed in Africa. Not only have they failed along with others in the aid industry, most nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have become part of the problem,” he wrote. “Not that they will admit their failure. They refuse to share the blame for the grim record. Instead they have closed ranks – along with UN development agencies and bilateral agencies – and all sing from the same hymn sheet: ‘Aid works’, they claim. ‘Give us even more money and we will complete the job…”
A British-based non-governmental organisation, Action Aid, painted an even grimmer picture. It said of the US$79 billion aid that was meant for Africa this year, US$37 billion was “phantom aid” which meant that it was not genuinely available to the countries which were supposed to benefit.
It said too much aid continued to be haphazardly allocated with little reference to need. It was tied to requirements that it be spent on donor countries’ own companies. It was double counted as debt relief, or was lost through cumbersome and poorly coordinated procedures and systems.
Condoms available in Zimbabwe, for example, are “specially imported” from Britain by an American organisation Population Services International.
Action Aid said about two-thirds of aid from the world’s biggest donor, the United States, was phantom aid. In Zimbabwe, most of the programmes being sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are implemented by United States-based organisations such as the Futures Group, the Centres for Disease Control, Population Services International, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation and John Snow Inc.
“Too much (aid) continues to be identified, designed and managed by donors themselves, (is)tied to donor countries’ own firms, (is) poorly coordinated and based on a set of often untested assumptions about expatriate expertise and recipient ignorance,” Action Aid said. As a result, this aid was often overpriced and ineffective “ and in worst cases destroys rather than builds the capacity of the poorest countries”.
Social commentator Claude Mararike agreed. Zimbabweans had to realise that the West had its on agenda which was not necessarily that of Zimbabweans and should therefore question what was in it for those countries that provided aid to the country, he said.
“Anyone who puts his or her money into any activity, gets mileage from that activity,” he said. “Governments in Europe have always been interested in numbers in Africa and to some extent Asia. How are they increasing. What is the mortality rate and so on. The question is resources. The fewer the people in Africa, the better for Europe.”
“People must realise that our survival is more important that sex. Munozofunga the sex madya (You will only think about sex after eating),” he said.