Zim can win HIV marathon

Cathrine Murombedzi Hiv Walk
ZIMBABWE could be running in the HIV and Aids marathon and has shown signs that it can win the race. The country was in the throngs of the pandemic two decades ago with the first case reported in 1985.
In the 1990s, the whole nation was gripped by a pandemic that caused havoc and by the year 2000 nearly all families had lost either a relative or a friend.

Then with no anti-retroviral around great activists in the likes of Auxillia Chimusoro disclosed their HIV status. She disclosed her status 1992.

Another great woman who saved lives is the late Linde Francis who founded a place where people diagnosed with HIV could seek solace. She named the place The Centre.

During the years between 1998 and 2004 there were no generic drugs but just brand names which made anti retrovirals very expensive becoming out of reach of many people with only the rich affording the ARVs.

A month’s supply cost around US$1000 but with Indian pharmaceutical firms coming in to make generic medication, the prices of almost all medication was slashed by an astronomic figure that ARVs became affordable.

The cost came down to US$100 by 2014 meaning that the cost came down 10 times and India being called The Third World Pharmacy which was saving millions of lives.

During the World Aids Day last year in Chivhu’s Garwe Stadium chiefs from the province among them Chief Mutekedza, Chief Chivese, Chief Neshangwe and Chief Musarurwa graced the occasion.

The importance of the traditional leaders in the national response to turn the tide against HIV is of paramount importance as they lead communities in their respective areas.

UNAids country represented Mr Michael Bartos said that Zimbabwe was running a marathon and was halfway in the race.

A country in a race and being halfway cannot afford to relax and throw caution to the wind, but needs to scale up its intervention programmes in all spheres.

“AIDS is a marathon, we have run halfway the race and we can see the touch line. The commitment of the Zimbabwean Government to provide free ARVs has served lives,” said Mr Bartos.

He however, questioned why people continued to die from Aids related diseases.

“Is the clinic too far? Is the patient tired to continue on treatment?

“Are ARVs scarce? Is stigma and discrimination making people shy to access treatment?”

This got many people thinking as Mr Bartos had surely observed the pertinent issues surrounding HIV.

He added that despite the unanswered sticking points above, with Zimbabwe’s commitment would win us the race.

“Zimbabwe will win the HIV and Aids marathon. Solidarity will take us to the zero line,” he said

Getting to the zero line means that we do not get new HIV infections. In 1986, the prevalence rate was 26 percent but has come down to 14,8 percent today.

The prevalence rate has fallen mainly to behaviour change, correct and consistent condom use, being faithful to one uninfected partner and abstinence to some extent.

People living with HIV and Aids play an important role as their experiences can save lives.

They should not be viewed as vectors of transmission.

Mr Joel Garikai who spoke at the event said he had been feeling ill for years but did not have the guts to go and get tested. He however joined a network of people living with HIV and got support leading to his taking the HIV test in 2005.

“I fell ill in 2005 and did not have the courage to get tested for HIV. I therefore joined ZNNP+, received counselling and got tested.

“I tested HIV positive. I was very ill and could not walk. My CD4 count was 21. After thorough counselling I was put on ARVs and was told that adherence would be the cornerstone to recovery,” said Mr Garikai.

Today Mr Garikai is an activist giving psycho-social support to people living with HIV.

He has started 12 support groups in Marondera and has become the focal person for ZNNP+ in Mashonaland East participating in the home based care activities.

Mr Garikai won Mr ARV pageant in 2013 which seeks to fight stigma and discrimination.

Small to Medium Enterprises and Co-operatives Development Minister Sithembiso Nyoni who was representing First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe reiterated the need to reflect on our behaviour.

“We need to reflect on our behaviour – it will lead us to the eradication of HIV infections, deaths, stigma and discrimination. Mothers should vow that no child should be born infected because there are preventive strategies namely PMTCT and Option B+ and strengthening community based organisations especially those led by PLWH.

“Government should fight gender based violence which spreads HIV/AIDS. HIV testing and counselling is the gateway to treatment. It’s wise to enforce abstinence: to be morally upright as the first preventive strategy,” said Minister Nyoni.

“Numbers of people requiring ARVs is outstretching the resources available. More than 600 000 people are receiving ARVs, while economic challenges exist but Mai G Mugabe is happy with work by the National Aids Council and partners to meet these needs.”

Correct behaviour is indeed a pillar in getting to zero. Achievement of the three zeros is possible through this multi-sectoral approach to HIV. Getting to zero is my responsibility, it is your responsibility together we can get to zero.
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