US medical workers arrested in Zim

Four medical practitioners from the United States and a local doctor have been in police custody for three days in Zimbabwe for allegedly distributing Aids medication illegally, officials and lawyers said.

The Americans-a doctor, two nurses and a community volunteer-are affiliated with a US Baptist church in Oakland, California.

To appear in court

They are due to appear in court, according to their lawyer, Jonathan Samkange.

A US embassy statement said they were arrested on suspicion of distributing anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs without a license. Consular officials have been in regular contact with the group. It is receiving adequate treatment from police, the embassy said.

The Zimbabwean doctor is a senior physician based at a hospital 80 kilometres east of Harare.

About 13% of Zimbabweans are infected with the HIV virus, which kills 1,030 people a week, according to official figures.

Relying on foreign non-governmental organisations

The state health service, still struggling to recover from the 2008 economic collapse, can supply ARVs to only a small portion of those infected with Aids, thus relying on local and foreign non- governmental organisations to meet the bulk of demand.

The group was arrested at the Harare offices of the Zimbabwe Aids Network, an umbrella organisation of groups working to contain the HIV-Aids epidemic. They were not only involved in the distribution of ARVs, but also worked with Aids orphans, the embassy statement said.

Zimbabwe law requires that foreign-registered medical personnel obtain a certificate to practice medicine in Zimbabwe from the local medical association. Samkange said all four Americans were in possession of the certificates.

The website of the Allen Temple Baptist Church said that it has worked in Zimbabwe for 10 years without encountering any difficulties from authorities.

Mugabe 'too suspicious'

The administration of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is known to be deeply suspicious of foreign aid organisations.

In 2008, Mugabe banned non-governmental organisations from distributing food aid during a severe famine, after accusing them of supporting the country's pro-democracy Movement for Democratic Change, which has since entered into a power-sharing arrangement. (Sapa, Jan Raath, September 2010) 

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