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Zimbabwe to expand free AIDS drugs roll-out programme

HARARE-AIDS-ravaged Zimbabwe plans to expand its free AIDS drugs roll-out programme, reaching out to 100,000 more patients by the end of the year, the country's health minister said this week.

With only 60,000 people currently accessing life-prolonging anti-retrovial (ARV) therapy, Health and Child Welfare Minister David Parirenyatwa said "at least 300,000 people will have access to the drugs by 2010".

"The aim is to have universal access to ARVs by 2010 and we know we are going to achieve that ... with the assistance of our partners and also money we will avail as government," Friday's official Herald newspaper quoted him as saying.

Parirenyatwa, who was speaking on Wednesday evening in the southwestern mining town of Kadoma, said the fresh programme would be bankrolled by the government, by donors through the United Nations Global Fund and by non-governmental organisations working in the southern African nation.

Zimbabwe last year received a 65-million-dollar grant from the Global Fund to bolster its fight against HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

It is one of the countries hardest hit by the HIV and AIDS pandemic, with at least 3,000 people dying weekly from AIDS-related illness -- or about one person every three minutes -- according to the National AIDS Council.

Zimbabwe has also experienced an upsurge in the number of tuberculosis cases linked to HIV and AIDS.

The National Aids Council says the HIV prevalence rate dropped from 24.6 percent in 2003 to 20.1 percent in 2005 and about 18.1 percent last year.

The health ministry last year signed another 40-million-dollar deal with Britain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the UN agencies in the country to launch new HIV/AIDS projects.

Britain, Norway, Ireland and Sweden are to provide money while UN agencies are to provide technical support for the projects, which are set to run for the next three years.