An estimated 82,700 Zambians will become newly infected with HIV in 2009, up from just over 70,000 in 2007, according to new figures from the National AIDS Council.
The 2009 Zambia HIV Prevention Response and Modes of Transmission Analysis noted that the percentage of new HIV infections had stabilized, but the absolute number of new infections increased due to population growth.
As many as 71 out of every 100 new infections occur as a result of sex with a non-regular partner, while people who reported having only one sexual partner accounted for around 21 percent of new infections.
“This shows significant HIV risk even for those who are faithful. The country is facing new and tough challenges to reduce the infection rate because the disease is threatening the foundation of families and marriages,” the report commented.
Other drivers of Zambia’s epidemic are low levels of male circumcision in most parts of the country and inadequate condom use, particularly among discordant couples (in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other negative).
Although Zambia has recorded successes in its prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme, ensuring a safe blood supply, and behaviour-change communication campaigns, the authors recommended urgently focusing future prevention efforts on curbing common practices such as having multiple concurrent partners, transactional sex and inter-generational sex.
“Multiple concurrent partnerships are the leading cause of HIV infection in Zambia. Within these relationships, correct and consistent use of condoms remains dismally low despite condoms being readily available, in most cases free of charge,” President Rupiah Banda said at the opening of the National HIV Prevention Convention in Lusaka, the capital, last week, and called for more concerted efforts to curb new infections.
However, the report revealed that the annual estimated requirement was 200 million male condoms and 2 million female condoms, yet only 96 million male and 500,000 female condoms were available.
Vice President George Kunda blamed the high number of new infections on the poor uptake of HIV/AIDS services and reluctance to change risky behaviours.