Zimbabwe: Massive misuse of state AIDS levy negates years of progress

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Thousands of HIV and AIDS affected people in Zimbabwe are in great danger as the Southern African country is facing an acute shortage of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). The country has proved itself as one of the best candidates in HIV control since 1999. The misuse of an AIDS fund supported by a nationwide AIDS levy, an at-source tax, has accentuated the shortage of ARVs and could potentially negate a decade long progress in HIV/AIDS prevention.

More than 170 000 people are already on ARV treatment but health authorities are saying they hoped to put only another 60 000 new patients on ARV treatment this year.

The National Aids Council (NAC), a government-run organization said although Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centres have increased to 290 from two in 2004, it is failing to meet the demand for ARVs. “There are some indications that at least 60 000 patients will have commenced on ART in 2009 alone,” NAC said. “As we speak Zimbabwe is maintaining upwards of 170 000 patients on ARVs out of the 300 000 who urgently require them,” the organisation said.

Since the inception of ARV therapy in 2004, Zimbabwe has faced serious
shortages of foreign currency as donors witheld the much needed funding as a result of diplomatic impasse between Harare and many Western countries.

Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in the world to have recorded a
sharp decline in the HIV prevelance rate over the years. In 1999, an estimated 33 percent of Zimbabweans were affected by the HIV/AIDS virus, but according to latest estimates the infection rates have declined to 15.6 percent. “The decline in the HIV prevelance has taken place in very constrained environment with limited resources,” NAC said

However, it emerged last week that out of US$1.7 million NAC collected since January, only US$20 000 has been spent on desperately needed ARVs, which can significantly alleviate the suffering of AIDS and HIV patients.

The rest was spent on “luxuries” for staff at the National AIDS Council, including well-funded junkets to foreign countries, luxury cars and shameful salaries against the background of civil servants who earn only US$100 per month.

Every Zimbabwean worker has to pay what is called an AIDS Levy on
their earnings. The money is deducted at source, just like income tax.
The Government policy states that 50% of the Aids Levy should be spent
on drugs.

In 1999 the government introduced an AIDS levy on all taxpayers to
fund the work of the NAC. The 3 per-cent AIDS levy that is deducted from the workers’ hard earned salaries should automatically make them the important stakeholders of the fund, with full rights to inquire about the way it is managed to hold NAC accountable.

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