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In Zimbabwe, The Crisis Worsens

If the government of South Africa has failed to deal effectively with the AIDS epidemic, then the government of Zimbabwe has virtually ignored it. Ed Bradley reports.

The president of Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe, the man who recently urged his supporters to invade white-owned farms. Mugabe has also spent millions of dollars to send thousands of men to fight in the Congo.

But from what 60 Minutes II could see, he has paid almost no attention to the AIDS epidemic that will decimate the next generation of his citizens. To be in Zimbabwe today is like being in a house on fire, while the landlord watches the flames and pretends to not see them.

"Death is a daily thing," says Dr. Marvelous Mihloye, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe, who for the last eight years has tracked the number of AIDS cases in her country. "Since we have been sitting here, someone has died of AIDS."

"We are talking of infection rates of approximately 25 percent among the adult population," says Mihloye, who lost her brother to AIDS. "And in certain areas they're as high as 45 percent, which means one in two of expecting mothers test positive."

President Mugabe says that he is well aware of his country's AIDS crisis, and he's doing everything he can to stop it.

"It's a myth if you think there's no programs going on," said Dr. Timothy Stamps, Mugabe's minister of health. Zimbabwe's government has been fighting the AIDS epidemic for 12 years, he says.

Since that policy has been in place, the rate of infection increases every year. The result of the rising rate of infection is obvious. Every day, Phyliss Tagareera, a nurse for Mashambanzo, a privately funded AIDS hospice, combs the streets of Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare, for AIDS patients dying there alone.

Mashambanzo has only 22 beds reserved for people who are dying of AIDS. Each week, the nurses visit dozens of patients in their homes, but there are thousands more they can't get to at all.

Four years ago, Frank Guni founded a national organization for people like himself, who are living with the disease. And Guni receives news every day of hundreds of AIDS deaths from around Zimbabwe.

"The government of Zimbabwe has done absolutely nothing, and we had to come up together and form our own association to support ourselves," he says.

Every week, Guni visits villages like one located 100 miles outside the capital city of Harare. About 3,000 people live there, but according to Guni, many are dying young, of diseases brought on by AIDS. At the same time, the government seems to have forgotten about this entire district, which has no funding for AIDS counselors or testing. And nobody at the nearest clinic knows how to treat AIDS patients.

One of the few programs in Zimbabwe that does address the AIDS epidemic is run - not by the government - but by former prostitutes. The Gwero Women's AIDS Prevention Association gives poor women a way to support themselves and their chldren without turning to prostitution. And then it sends them back out into the beer gardens to pass out condoms and talk to people about the threat of HIV.

Brenda Nieamvunga stopped working as a prostitute in 1998. Last year she discovered she was HIV positive. She says that when she was working as a prostitute, she knew that there was a risk, but that she needed money for food.

When she goes to beer gardens to educate others she finds that women are more knowledgeable than men, Nieamvunga says. "The men...know about HIV but they don't want to take it seriously," she says. "They don't want to be realistic."

According to Nieamvunga, the government does not support her group and provides no programs or medicine. Health minister Stamps says he would like to increase funding, but there are no available funds.

But there is money available to fight a war hundreds of miles from Zimbabwe's border. According to U.S. intelligence sources, Mugabe's government spends about $1 milion in U.S. dollars every day to send 12,000 troops to the diamond-rich Congo, to help prop up the government there. In exchange, the Congo has granted Zimbabwe diamond concessions, which have enriched some of Mugabe's closest friends and reportedly the president himself.

Recently President Mugabe's government has opened nine centers around Zimbabwe, where people can be tested for HIV.

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