Mirirai Nsingo Senior Reporter
As Zimbabwe joins the rest of the World to commemorate World AIDs Day today, the first religious figure to go public on his HIV status in Zimbabwe speaks about the power of antiretroviral and how it changed his life.
He believes he is one of the greatest miracles that have come with anti-retroviral therapy and cannot afford any message distortions about the life saving drug.
Indeed 44-year-old Pastor Maxwell Kapachawo is a “miracle”. He is the man who graced the Zimbabwean television in 2004 just before the national roll-out of the lifesaving drug with the “Handisi mu departure lounge . . .” catch line. And seeing him, one would think he would die the next day.
Famously known for the Population Services International sponsored advertisement: “Handisi mudeparture lounge, ndiri kurarama neHIV . . . kuva HIV positive hazvirevi kuti nyika yaguma . . . (I am not in the departure lounge, I am living with HIV . . . — being positive does not mean the end of the world . . .), the HIV activist believes anti-retroviral drugs (ARVS) changed his life.
Pastor Kapachawo has been taking ARVs since 2004, when he was diagnosed and says he is a living miracle of the effectiveness of ARVs.
“If you cannot see a miracle in me, the ART miracle, I don’t know what other miracle you would be looking for.
“If you had seem me then, you would think I would die the next day. I also feared I would die and that was before the national roll out of the anti-retroviral drug programme,” he told Herald Lifestyle recently.
The leader of the Abandoned Grace Ministries says unsubstantiated claims by influential church leader, Walter Magaya of the Prophetic Healing Deliverance (PHD) Ministry that he had found a cure for HIV and AIDS could derail the gains that had been achieved through ART over the years.
“It is by God’s grace that ARVs are there and it is a miracle in itself,” says Pastor Kapachawo.
“It is the wrong message from the pulpit from these influential pastors which is killing people living with HIV.”
He urges the Government to put in place policies that guard against disseminating misleading information about HIV and Aids.
He believes any misleading information on HIV cure or treatment, particularly by men of the cloth threatens adherence to already tested and proven treatments.
“It becomes poison when a diluted messaging comes from a man of the cloth. Such man of the cloth continue to reverse tremendous gains that the country has made over the years.
“Am appealing to policy makers to come up with policies that can protect the nation from these marauding hyenas,” says Pastor Kapachawo.
Prophet Magaya has however, since apologised to the nation and reversed his claim on the basis that he made a premature announcement without following due process.
Zimbabwe is one of the countries hardest hit by HIV and AIDs with a prevalence rate of 13,7 percent according to United Nations agencies.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no cure for AIDS but many different drugs, such as anti-retroviral (ARVs) therapies are available to control the virus.
“It is not only taking the ARV but taking them religiously to this day that has saved my life and many others in the country,” said Pastor Kapachawo.
He fears that the stigma that continues to thrive in the church could reverse HIV gains.
The cleric experienced a first hand attitude of the church towards HIV and AIDS persons, and the presumption in religious circles that the disease is a consequence of immorality.
He was initially dismissed as a pastor by his bishop. He was later re-admitted after he attended an AIDS workshop and later convinced his church’s leadership that the pandemic needed to be de-stigmatised through open discussion.
“For me, that was like a death sentence, because as my spiritual father I expected my bishop to be supportive of me during my time of need. He never visited me after that.
“I had to fight the stigma that was rife in the church, it continues to be and these are some challenges that can derail the gains that have been made over the years,” he added.
He has since gone on to campaign through national radio and television, urging other religious leaders to disclose their HIV status and also to use churches as a medium for speaking openly about HIV and AIDS.
While many of Zimbabwe’s faith-based organisations were involved in programmes for HIV/AIDS, orphans the pandemic itself was a taboo subject in the church corridors and he had to break the silence and beat the stigma.
Pastor Kapachawo believes the stigma is still high especially in the church arguing that “man of the cloth” should also desist from any messaging of the word that is discriminatory.
“I have (often) asked my fellow religious leaders what they pray for at the bed-side of someone living with HIV. Do you pray for healing, do you pray for cure?
“We have reversed the gains the Zimbabwean Government has done. Sometimes with our bad mouthing we have made a lot of people default on their treatment which is not good news.
“The church is now full of pastors who are misleading people that they can cure AIDS and this is contributing to the number of people who are dying from the disease.”
The pastor said more needs to be done however, to fight stigma. The stigma and discrimination in our communities and our places of worship . . . it’s so pathetic.”
In its World AIDS Day message, the United Nations AIDS Programme (UNAIDS) notes that stigma and discrimination still deters people from taking an HIV test while access to confidential HIV testing still remains an issue of concern with many people only getting tested after becoming ill and symptomatic.
UNAIDS notes that the stigma could slow the pace in achieving the 90–90–90 targets especially the first 90 target.
The 90-90-90 UNAIDS set target that seeks to end the AIDS pandemic stipulates that by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status.
By 2020, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy. By 2020, 90 percent of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
Under the theme: “Know Your Status — My status, my health and my life,” Zimbabwe is focusing on integrating national response to HIV and Aids, cancer (including cervical and prostrate), Sexually Transmitted Infections, Tuberculosis and Diabetes.
World AIDS Day originated at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention