SADC Countries take lead in addressing the dark side of stigma link to HIV and AIDS.
BY NEVSON MPOFU.
Testimonies, inspiration and influence of four great Southern African leaders still remain history in the great battle against stigma and discrimination. These Leaders are from SADC countries namely South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. This is coming at a time Zimbabwe and the SADC Region is striving to achieve the 90 per cent get HIV tested, 90 per cent treatment achievement, 90 per cent viral suppression targets of the United Nations as discussed and agreed from 8 to10 June in the USA High Level meeting of World leaders in 2016. However added on to Regional success story, the same mentioned and all other SADC states are moving along completely eliminating HIV .
We are almost up to be done with this epidemic, a wide spread health challenge .As well, the World is thriving to achieve Zero new infections which when followed closely may lead to zero HIV cases .Some Experts predicts that the epidemic will cease with time when all existing generations living in the HIV and AIDS era are gone and new ones have emerged in an HIV free Generation. This was the case of the 17th century Bubonic plague of Europe. This deadly pandemic lapsed with natural time with less treatment effort and no cure.
Through implementation of its Declarations like the Maseru Declaration of 4 July 2003 on the fight against spread of HIV and AIDS, Abuja Declaration , 24-27 April 2001 on HIV prevention , treatment , care and support of also Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa and the Maputo Declaration of 24 March 2008 ,SADC will make it by 2030 and beyond .However close monitoring on new infections is critical and as well the need to completely eliminate the VIRUS through also working on reducing HIV and AIDS Prevalence Rate. Also through the path of UNAIDS policies and UN Protocols, SADC more pinned by HIV 1closely related to Retroviruses will sail through.
Thanks to the four r great African leaders , President of the Republic of Zimbabwe , Comrade RG Mugabe , the late Vice President of Zimbabwe, DR Joshua Nkomo , the late former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and DR Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia .Voices above are always mightier and more fast spread and are heard quicker than those below .This is time for leaders to smell , sniff stint in a stink and talk with action .Time is here to stay for leaders to lead by example, solving paradoxes and adversities pulling the World down .
From the early 70’s, HIV and AIDS was silently killing until a certain time a French Medical Doctor Louis Pasture discovered the human virus which when left unmanaged progresses to AIDS .Early days in the early 80’s stigma was alarmingly at its highest prevalence , this shunning opening up on HIV status . Still, who might have known what was amiss? HIV Technology in Africa was beyond reach like TESTING MACHINES and Anti-Retroviral Drugs.
Stigma is at its highest stage during the time CD4count drops down below 200 cells per millimeter of blood in what is VIRAL SUPPRESSION. At this stage in life, one HIV positive is defined to be AIDS blown. It is at a time LYMPHADENOPATHY stage manifests itself with severe health consequences like swollen lymph-nodes. This is more common in HIV positive people. However, this has fuelled stigma height. It becomes serious when one goes under IRIS, Immune Reconstitution Inflammatory Syndrome. This is the appearance of new condition after initiation of Anti-Retroviral Drugs in HIV patients. It is also the Immunosuppression in which the CD4 Immune System begins to recover, but then responds to a previously acquired Opportunistic Infection with overwhelming inflammatory response which makes symptoms worse.
These are rare circumstances when anti – retroviral drugs are a problem in one using them, may be because of poor management and failure to consult from Doctors or experts This is the result of fear to open up as one gets concealed.. Lastly, is the case of LIPODYSTROPHY which is characterized by abnormal or degenerative conditions of the body’s adipose tissue? Under such conditions, there is loss of fat from one area of the body like the face .HIV symptomatic people are pointed and selected out of place because of what they are, it becomes stigma and discrimination.
These health complications need more knowledge on antiretroviral therapy (ART) management, adhering to guidelines and observing those on treatment at the same time initiating counseling, information dissemination and sticking to one sexual partner, that is avoiding concurrent sexual partners who are part of HIV and AIDS Key populations, for example commercial sex workers. Global organizations have however done well in these areas of research in HIV and AIDS.
International Donors Interventions and responses like from USAID, EPFAR, OXFAM and UN agencies like UNAIDS are battling to create an HIV and AIDS free generation. These work to co-ordinate programs, funding regional and local organizations respectively like SAFAIDS, OPHID, Jointed Hands and ZNPP+ . Despite much effort by civil society, stigma rules and discrimination leads. Despite that countries have and some are implementing the STIGMA INDEX PROJECT. Around the World, it is in over 90 countries of which Zimbabwe is among .The Stigma Index is used by countries to measure CHANGING TRENDS IN HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.
Research documents that stigma is low in elite classes because of access to various media, access to treatment and low viral suppression buttressed by balanced diet for good nutrition. It is high in the urban high-populated density suburbs, rural communities, farming and mining areas where access to various media remains a big challenge and also where treatment, advocacy, sensitization and awareness is low. Our victory on stigma and discrimination is victory towards HIV which if not well managed progresses to AIDS. Praise is the lord for Africa, which testified on HIV and AIDS.
In the long-term record, locally the country woke up to the reality of the situation in 1996 when Thuthani Enerst Nkomo [41years] by then died. Thuthani was the late vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo’s son. The late vice president disclosed to the nation that his son had died from AIDS. This created mass emotions, questions hovering why had Dr Nkomo testified against Medical Doctors diagnosis who had announced that he had died of Respiratory complications. This went a long way after some time in reducing prejudice, stigma and discrimination.
‘’He is not alone, thousands of young people are dying of HIV and AIDS Opportunistic Infections, people hide the truth, ” said Dr Joshua Nkomo.
Six years down the line in 2002, Dr Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia testified about his son Musuzgo Gwebe Kaunda who had died on 21 December 1987 of the same epidemic. Dr Kaunda also came out in the open, specifying strongly about the negative consequences related to the issue. Because of his HIV and AIDS activism , in 2004, Dr Kaunda was invited to the first ever Zimbabwe’s HIV and AIDS 5000 International delegates Conference titled thematically “ HIV and AIDS taking stock ”which was held in Harare .
‘’The Liberation struggle is better than this HIV and AIDS struggle which has killed a number of our people.’’
‘’It does not need my son’s death to appeal to the International Community to treat the question of AIDS as a world problem, its something serious we all need to fight together and win the battle, regardless of who dies ‘’
At the same conference President Robert Mugabe read his presentation which contained very strong messages which up to now are contributing in reducing stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS. .
‘‘Up to this day, no family has not been challenged by HIV and AIDS due to the death of a fellow relative HIV infected. And still we remain all affected by this epidemic which has reduced population, left orphans and , child headed families .Worse, it has reduced Gross Domestic Products of many countries since it contributes to Global crisis’’ .
A sent strong message awakened the whole world and brought home reduction in stigma , thereby reducing HIV and AIDS prevalence around the world .More to that ,strong words sent everlasting messages , which up to this day lives in the hearts of many people .
Former South African President Mr Nelson Mandela in 2005 opened grounds of truth by revealing as well that his son Makgatho who had died on 06 January 2005 was HIV positive. Giving a testimony, the South African former President left a clear message in the air.
“We shy the truth but death won’t shy when it comes. The scourge is hindered by stigma and discrimination. This is the time to tell the truth and come out in the open in order to fight this health challenge.
“So let not the love of those who love you be taken away from you because of what you are,” he stressed clearly and saluted his slogan in HIV and AIDS fight.
The late former President had been for some years tear gushed in remorse by the grisly murder of an HIV positive woman.
In South Africa in 1994 the first woman who came out in the open, Gugulethu Dhlamini was brutally stoned to death in Johannesburg. This led to much fear as people who wanted to come out in the open feared to do so. Stigma and discrimination rose to alarming higher levels, stirring HIV prevalence rates. Later, the late Former President formed the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Nevson Mpofu is a long standing award winning journalist and published poet. Currently, he is a Community Development, HIV and AIDS Lecturer at Career Management Centre in Harare.