AS the late noblewoman of Wales, Princess Diana rightly put it, “Family is the most important thing in the world.” You certainly can’t trade them, no matter how much they wrong you.
By Michael Gwarisa
The power of family has certainly proved to be the strongest force to ever exist even beyond some thick barriers which have been brought about by the HIV pandemic.
In the remote farming and mining community of Alaska in Chinhoyi, families have taken it upon themselves to fight HIV through initiating family support groups which collect Anti Retro Viral Therapy (ART) drugs for their loved ones living with HIV.
Through an initiative called the Family Arts Refill Groups (FARG) which was introduced to them by I-TECH in 2006, families in the community have taken the bull by its horns in scaling up ART adherence.
Since introduction of the FARG concept, not less than 26 support groups comprising of mothers fathers children and even their extended families have come together reduce default ratio as well as HIV related deaths in the area.
Mrs Stella Chiwara, a Support group leader in Alaska says the default ratio has drastically decreased over the years owing to internal ART collection and tracking systems they have devised as a result of the various initiatives, the FARG concept included.
“In Alaska, we have various support groups, the first group has 20 people, 18 Community Art Refill Group (CARG) members and two men the group is called Shingai support for people living with HIV. The second group also called Shingai has 15 women. The third group is made up of PMTCT mothers which has 25 members.
“The group is that of adolescents called Masimba support group, this has 34 children, 29 girls and five boys whom we are working. These are not the only ones in the community but only those we are currently working with. We then come to the FARGS, these are groups for families collecting ARVs on behalf of their family members and they are now 26,” said Ms Chiwara.
These groups are usually made up of a couple that is husband and wife, or parents and their children or extended family.
As a result of these support groups, HIV prevalence has fallen heavily. According to figures released by the National Aids Council (NAC) provincial office in Chinhoyi, about 138 981 adults and children were living with HIV in 2016, of which six percent were forecast to be children under the age of 14.
The report also showed that the HIV prevalence rate of adults between the age of 15 and 49 had steadily declined by 0,9 percent from 2013 to 2016.
Mashonaland West NAC provincial manager Mr Agrippa Zizhou said despite efforts being taken to achieve provincial targets, much still needed to be done to reverse the spread of HIV in the province.
Chegutu district is estimated to have the highest prevalence rate of 16,8 percent, followed by Zvimba and Sanyati districts at 15,2 percent each. Hurungwe has the least prevalence rate at 8,8 percent.
According to NAC, there was also a decline in the number of new HIV infections among adults during the 2013 to 2016 period. But Zvimba district contributed the highest number of new infections among adults.
Mrs Chiwara however bemoaned the lukewarm male participation in HIV initiatives as evidenced by their smaller representation in community support groups even in family groups as most men shy away from testing or being seen by the public eye participating in health related issues.
“Usually when men get to know of their HIV status, they are shy to show it in public, no wonder why AIDS kills most men than women, its because women easily accept their status and get initiated on ART.”
Meanwhile, support group members have now started various income generating projects as well as money spinning ventures.