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Lynde Francis, Zimbabwean Pioneer In Battle Against HIV/AIDS, Dies

Zimbabwean HIV/AIDS activist and therapist Lynde Francis, who broke with convention by publicly disclosing her HIV-positive status in 1986 and went on to found one of Zimbabwe's foremost counseling and treatment centers for the disease, died Tuesday in Harare.

Sources close to her family said she succumbed to AIDS-related complications and had been in a coma for several days leading up to her death.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, Francis was told that her life expectancy was five years, leading her to research the role of nutrition in determining outcomes for the HIV-positive. She went public with her HIV-positive status, declaring, "I will live to see my grandchildren."

Francis told VOA in 2002, "When I was diagnosed they told me I had probably three to five years...That was in 1986 and now I have five grandchildren."

At a time when antiretroviral drug therapy was either experimental or still too expensive for most Zimbabweans, Francis preached good nutrition those living with HIV/AIDS as a way to bolster immune systems broken down or threatened by the virus that causes AIDS.

Francis told VOA in March 2002 that at that time only about 40 of the 2,000 people helped by the Center were taking antiretroviral drugs, others adhering to a holistic program of wellness grounded in nutrition, coupled with social and spiritual support and stress management.

“We teach them to revert to the traditional type of cuisine that used to be eaten before Western foods came in and become so widely accepted," Francis told reporter Joe De Capua. "Things that are not refined, not processed, don’t have additives."

Interim Chairman Freddie Kachote of The Center told reporter Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Francis was an HIV/AIDS pioneer from the start.

Aids activist Frank Guni, technical director for HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases for Management Systems International In Washington said Lyndie Francis contributed to the battle against HIV/AIDS not only in Zimbabwe but internationally through her ideas.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...