Zimbabwe Election Could Affect AIDS Fight

A sign made by children in Zimbabwe urging leaders to promote prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services.

Wallace Mawire/Key Correspondents

On Wednesday, July 31, Zimbabweans voted in what many observers have called the most important presidential election since the country gained its independence from Great Britain in 1980. The election featured long-time President Robert Mugabe running against Morgan Tsvangirai, a former union organizer and head of the party, Movement for Democratic Change. On Friday, August 2, the African Union approved the election following concerns of vote tampering, but ballots are still being collected and counted.

Zimbabwe has more than 1 million people living with HIV – nearly 15 percent of the population according to UNAIDS. That number includes more than 200, 000 children and 600,000 women. So how will the election impact the fight to eliminate HIV in Zimbabwe?

Godfrey Woelk, Director of Global Implementation Research for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), says that “there is no difference, really, between the candidates on the elimination of HIV/AIDS; all parties and candidates are fully committed to this.”

But Woelk added that the Movement for Democratic Change appears to be more open to outside non-governmental organizations (NGOS) and funders. “If they win,” he said, “relations are likely to be easier.”

The biggest impact of the election, Woelk said, would be if it were contested or disputed. “In which case there could well be significant impact (on HIV/AIDS) through the slowing or freezing of activities and an unwillingness to engage with outside NGOs, funders, or governments.”

Those fears could come true, as Tsvangirai has asked outside observers to investigate the election results. But regardless of the outcome, Zimbabwe’s fight to eliminate HIV/AIDS will continue.  Stay tuned for updates as the results of the election are decided.

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Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.