Tinomuda Chakanyuka Sunday News Reporter
THE contentious 2012 census results showing Bulawayo’s population in decline could be accurate if the city’s high uptake of condoms is anything to go by.
Out of a staggering 300 million male and female condoms that have been distributed nationwide in the past five years, official data from the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) shows that despite being the least populated provinces in the country, Matabeleland North and Bulawayo have the highest consumers of contraceptives in the Southern region.
On the other hand, the high uptake of condoms in the two provinces has not necessarily translated into use as the HIV prevalence rate is highest nationally in Matabeleland South, Bulawayo and Matabeleland North respectively.
According to ZNFPC, about 287 million male condoms were distributed between 2009 and last year while 16,4 million female condoms were dispatched during the same period, to give a total of 303 million condoms distributed in the past half a decade.
The figures, however, only represent condoms that were distributed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care through public health institutions, and exclude branded condoms sold in private pharmacies. Data obtained from the ZNFPC also indicates that Matabeleland North and Bulawayo provinces have accounted for about 40 percent of the condoms distributed in the region, which also includes Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South provinces.
The two provinces have relatively low population figures compared to other provinces not only in the Southern region, but countrywide, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency 2012 National Population Census Report.
Matabeleland North and Bulawayo have a collective population of about 1.4 million, which equals that of the Midlands province alone and slightly higher than that of Masvingo province which has about 1.2 million people.The two provinces account for about 10 percent of the country’s total population of 13 million people.
Social commentator and development expert, Mr Enoch Musara, said the low population figures in Matabeleland North and Bulawayo provinces could, to some extent, be attributed to high use of contraceptives which retards birth rates. He, however, highlighted other factors such as migration to other parts of the country as contributing to the low population figures.
“It could be that people in the region have a high contraceptive knowledge which in a way slows down the birth rate and inversely affects the population. Of course it wouldn’t be accurate and factual to say the use of contraception is the main reason for the dwindling population in the region.
“There are other factors such as migration to other parts of the country. If you look at it closely the collapse of industry in Bulawayo has seen a lot of people searching for employment elsewhere. That could be one of the biggest reasons why the provinces have relatively lower figures in terms of population,” he said.
Contraception and HIV experts say the high uptake of condoms, among other prevention and intervention strategies in the country, had helped reduce the country’s HIV prevalence rate by about 50 percent in the past few years.
In 2009 the national HIV prevalence rate was at 24 percent and has since dropped to about 15 percent, a development analysts have attributed to the various intervention strategies employed by Government and its partners in the fight against HIV/Aids.
Although the national HIV prevalence rate is decreasing, Bulawayo and Matabeleland North’s prevalence rates remain high at 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
This presents a puzzle, in light of revelations that the two provinces account for the largest chunk of condoms distributed in the Southern Region.
National Aids Council (NAC) communications officer, Mrs Tadiwa Pfupa, explained: “The huge figures of condoms distributed in an area does not necessarily translate to high usage. It is very difficult to assess whether or not people are using the condoms after taking them. So much work still needs to be done to educate people on correct and consistent use of condoms.
“However, it remains a positive and encouraging fact to note that with each year the number of condoms distributed is increasing. It shows we are moving in the right direction,” she said.
ZNFPC marketing and communications manager, Mr Simon Chikwizo, said his organisation was encouraged by the increase in the uptake of contraceptives, particularly condoms, adding that the council was intensifying condom distribution in an effort to reduce HIV incidence in the country. HIV incidence refers to the estimated total number of new HIV infections in a given period.
Mr Chikwizo expressed satisfaction at the level of contraception in the country which he said was at 98 percent. “People now appreciate the importance of contraception.
We are past the days when condoms were associated with promiscuity. Married people now appreciate condom use, which is why our figures of condoms distributed per year continue to rise.
“It’s a positive development especially in our fight against HIV. The prevalence rate has gone down and we can partly attribute that to the high level of contraception knowledge among Zimbabweans.“As an organisation we will continue distributing condoms as well as educate people on the importance of using contraception, for birth control as well as protection against HIV,” he said.
Zimbabwe is regarded as having the highest consumption rate of condoms in Southern Africa. Last year alone 76 million condoms were distributed nationally.