Mukudzei Chingwere-Herald Reporter
The recent landmark Constitutional Court judgment aligning the minimum age of sexual consent to the age of marriage raising it from 16 to 18 years is set to benefit the fight against HIV, Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Constantino Chiwenga has said.
He made the remarks on Wednesday while addressing the 2022 Second Quarter National Validation Committee on eliminating of mother to child transmission of both HIV and syphilis.
Health experts are on record that the ideal age of consent is a time when concerned parties are mature enough to negotiate for safe intercourse.
VP Chiwenga said he is happy Parliament and the Constitutional Court endorsed that girls can consent at the minimum age of marriage.
“I am quite happy that our Constitutional Court endorsed this position. Now it makes our young girls safe that they get married at the correct age,” he said.
VP Chiwenga said Zimbabwe set ambitious targets to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis, aiming to attain a mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV that is less than 5 percent.
“I challenge us all to interrogate why 13 percent of HIV positive pregnant women who visited our facilities were not initiated on antiretroviral therapy during the reporting period.
“There is an urgent need to find out why so many women who should have been taking antiretroviral treatment for their own health and to prevent vertical transmission were not on antiretroviral therapy,” VP Chiwenga challenged stakeholders.
According to the stacked bar analysis from the UNAIDS spectrum model, the majority of new HIV infections among children are happening through transmission from women who are not on treatment.
VP Chiwenga said adolescent girls and young women are a high-risk group for acquiring new HIV infections in general, especially during pregnancy and lactation.
According to data from District Health Information 2 (DHIS 2), adolescent girls and young women aged 10-24 years, including women less than 30 years, account for 62 percent of new HIV infections among children.
“I am pleased to report that appropriate action is being taken to address the needs of this vulnerable population, including scaling up the provision of pre-exposure prophylaxis to pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and young women,” said VP Chiwenga.
“This will greatly reduce their risk of acquiring new HIV infection and ultimately prevent HIV transmission to their babies.
“Let me reiterate that our children should be born HIV free and remain HIV free during the breastfeeding period and beyond.
“However, to those children who fall through the cracks and test HIV positive, treatment and child friendly formulations are available,” he said.
VP Chiwenga said Zimbabwe is committed to ending AIDS in children by 2030, thus, “we must all pull together to make this a reality as we work towards universal health coverage and attaining our health-related sustainable development goals.”