By Robert Tapfumaneyi
A staggering 740 000 young women in Zimbabwe are living with HIV, the third highest figures in the Sadc region, a UNAIDS HIV and Women report has revealed.
South Africa tops the list with 4.4 million followed by Mozambique at 1.3 million. The report describes a young women as one between the ages of 15-24.
The latest UNAIDS HIV and Women report released this week show that the reasons behind these figures vary and are complex, including the existence of high levels of transactional sex and age-disparate sexual relationships that are blamed for the HIV vulnerability of young women.
“An estimated 740,000 women were living with HIV in Zimbabwe in 2017.
“Gender inequality is present within relationships and marriages, and drives HIV infections,” the report said.
“Although knowledge among young people is improving, only 37% of young women and 41% of young men have comprehensive and correct knowledge of HIV prevention.
“Only 46% of young women and 47% of young men have comprehensive knowledge about HIV, limiting their ability to take control of their sexual health.”
The report added: “In addition, only 29% of adolescent women (aged 15-19), at high risk of HIV infection used a condom the last time they had sex, compared to 44% of their male counterparts.”
UNAIDS said the low levels of condom use could be reflective of the fact that half of Sadc countries “impose age-restrictions on buying condoms.”
The Report also said that in 2015, 17% of young women aged 15-19 in Zimbabwe reported having had sex with a man 10 years older in the past 12 months.
“This ‘sugar-daddy’ culture can contribute to an elevated risk of HIV for young women, as they are exposed to older men who may be more likely to have HIV or who hold the power in the relationship and determine condom use,” said UNAIDS.
According to the report’s findings, among young women, HIV prevalence increases with age. At least 2.7% of women aged 15-17 living with HIV, increasing to 13.9% for those in the 23-24 age group.
“Among young men, HIV prevalence holds steady at around 2.5% until the age of 23-24 when it increases to 6%,” it said.
“However, as only 64% of young women (15-24) and 47.5% of young men have ever tested for HIV, prevalence among this group could be significantly higher.”
Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in sub-Saharan Africa at 13.3%, with 1.3 million people living with HIV as at 2017.
Behind Zimbabwe in fourth is northern neighbour, Zambia with 670 000 young women living with HIV, followed by Malawi (630 000), Botswana (220 000) sits in sixth position with Angola (200 000) while Eswantini has 130 000 young women living with the deadly virus.