Today – 1 December – is World AIDS Day. Huge strides have been made in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS over the past decade, but on World AIDS Day the public and governments are reminded that the disease is by no means gone.
Every day, about 5,753 people contract HIV – this equates to roughly 240 every hour. A vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education remains.
The Oak Zimbabwe Programme supports a number of initiatives aimed directly at what UNAIDS has dubbed “the prevention gap”– that is, hard-to-reach demographics and regions where HIV/AIDS is more entrenched. These groups, which desperately need more outreach, support, education and care, include girls and women in economically disadvantaged countries, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, transgender people, prisoners and sex-workers.
Wonder Zindoga Maisiri, Programme Officer of the Zimbabwe Programme says that poverty continues to be one of the biggest allies of this disease. Medical appointments are often unaffordable – many people cannot pay USD 5 for a consultation at city health clinics, or the USD 12 – USD 15 fee at major hospitals. In addition, proper nutrition may also be out of reach financially, allowing the disease to really take hold.
Because poverty and HIV/AIDS are so interlinked, the Zimbabwe Programme is supporting vocational training and income-generating activities such as small-scale agricultural development. It also works to raise awareness and provide critical health support. The Bethany Project, an Oak partner working in the Zvishavane District of Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province, focuses on practical ways to help children who are living with HIV and/or are orphaned as a result of the disease. For example, a project to distribute chickens, pigs and goats for children to raise has been bringing in a stream of income to pay for school fees, uniforms and shoes, medical care and other basic needs. The project also supervises 140 people in tending vegetable plots.
To raise awareness, Family AIDS Caring Trust runs school programmes to inform young people about child abuse and the transmission of HIV. Practically, these programmes provide training in carpentry, cosmetology and other vocations to help break people out of the poverty cycle so that they can care for themselves and their families.
For those who can no longer work, Oak partner Mashambanzou Care Trust provides in-home care for the sick, counselling for patients and their families, outreach work and a crèche for orphans and training for caregivers. Its care centre in Waterfalls, Harare, houses 30 patients and provides nutritious meals and life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs.
Traditional relations between men and women and attitudes towards sexuality have also been factors in the spread of the disease. “For example,” says Merciful Machuwe Tizvioni, Programme Assistant at the Zimbabwe Programme, “in Africa the traditional imbalance of power between men and women has in some instances been fuelled by poverty and women’s dependence on men.” Often men ignore the call from clinics and hospitals to get tested along with their pregnant wives.
To win their trust, Oak’s partners have found ways of working with the local people on this matter. “One of our partners buys presents for the husbands who accompany their pregnant partners for HIV testing,” says Merciful. “This encourages the couple to attend a counselling session so they can be taught methods of preventing infection to the unborn child.”
Oak commends the work of its partners in Zimbabwe as they work to support people facing this disease.