The Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) says there is need to continuously raise awareness for people to know their HIV status, as part of efforts to reduce the HIV stigma.
In its latest report titled The Zimbabwe Stigma Index Research Report, ZNNP+ says it is important to engage government, the private sector and individuals in targeted interventions to address sources of discrimination against people living with HIV.
National AIDS Council communications officer, Tadiwa Nyatanga-Pfupa, says the ZNNP+ report is an important indicator of the need for people to disclose their status. She says people with a high status in society can play an important role in curbing the HIV stigma.
“There are people who are mainly looked up in society by virtue of the positions they hold as headmasters, as teachers, as pastors who hold positions of influence. For them to go back and tell people who look up to them that they are HIV-positive, they will think people will feel badly let-down, they have set a bad example.”
Tadiwa says those who are influential in society are critical in changing negative perceptions about HIV.
“When they do disclose their status people will also become free to go and get tested and disclose their results because they will say if this popular footballer, this popular musician or pastor has disclosed that he is HIV-positive I can also do the same.”
IMPORTANCE OF DISCLOSURE
But why is disclosure important? “If one discloses his status that will make those that will have been holding on to their status without disclosing to open up. They will then get into support groups and encourage each other to take their medication to share ideas on the proper nutrition to take. The moment one does not disclose his or her status, they will lose a lot of information.”
“While HIV-related stigma is still widespread in communities, some people are beginning to come forward to show the importance of revealing one’s HIV-status. Studio 7 spoke to 49-year old Barbara Farashishiko, a counsellor with ZNNP+ in Tafara, who has disclosed her status.”
Farashishiko, who works with 16 support groups in the suburb and is a tuberculosis survivor, says she was thrown out of her matrimonial home when she fell ill in 1985.
“I was thinking of my baby boy and how my in-laws couldn’t accept my condition. They said I was a moving grave and they were stigmatising me. I was so stressed. After I was discharged my parents took me in. I was carried in a wheel-barrow and all the people in the community were watching, saying “is she going to survive, she is going to die. Look how she is and she has a baby, she cannot survive.”
Farashishiko says staying with her parents was very difficult. “I had to sleep together with my father and my mother in the same bedroom. And I couldn’t share with other children because they were afraid they would also be infected. And I had to use my own plate and my own cup so as not to infect others.
“I told them that you cannot get TB from a plate, you cannot get TB on a cup or sharing the same toilet seat or the same blankets.”
She says disclosure is therapeutic for someone who is living with HIV. “You should accept what you are and disclosure is very important because once you disclose your status or what you are when people point a finger at you it will not worry you because you have disclosed your status. That is how I manage my stress.”
Farashishiko says she needs $4,500 to undergo an operation because she cannot read or see things in the distance.
“I have a conical cornea problem, so I need a transplant, that is I need a cornea from another person to be donated to me. Normally here in Zimbabwe it is not done but in South Africa. Last time I visited the eye unit there were corneas that were donated.”
Farashishiko stays with her daughter-in-law,Cynthia, who says she has learnt a lot during support group discussions about the importance of disclosing one’s status and understanding HIV issues.
“I used to stigmatise people but now I know through my mother-in-law. I also go to the workshops and learn with other people, hear new ideas. Now I know everything about TB and discrimination. Here we have a studio and my mother used to go there and talk to young people about TB and circumcision. She used to go door to door and talk to people, young people, mothers, everybody.”
PAINFUL DEATH OF HIV-POSITIVE MUM
Eighteen-year old Nathan Chihunje, who stays in Tafara, says he has been inspired by Barbara Farashishiko’s counselling sessions and work with support groups in the area.
Chihunje lost his mother, who was the bread-winner when he was only 15. He says the experience of caring for her mother taught him to be compassionate towards those living with HIV.
“She died of HIV and that affected me because I was still young. It was very difficult because I was the only person in my family. I did all household chores like cleaning the house and plates. She was not able to bathe herself and I assisted her.”
Zimbabwe has adopted the Fast Track concept of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, which aims at ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The concept outlines a set of targets that would need to be reached by 2020, including 90-90-90: 90 percent of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status on treatment; and 90 percent of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.