HUMAN beings desire love, friendship and family, without these crucial elements, humanity ceases to make sense.
By Kudakwashe Pembere Recently in Banket
Regardless of age, people living with HIV have to face serious stigma and discrimination in the societies they live in on daily basis. The situation becomes worse in young adolescent boys and girls who at times default on their medicines due to fear of being labelled by friends or schoolmates.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care Estimates (2015) in Zimbabwe, the estimated total number of people in need of antiretroviral treatment (ART) was estimated at 1,400,000 with 77, 000 being children (0-14 years) and 69, 000 adolescents (10-19 years). By the end of 2015, 61 percent of adults (above 15 years) living with HIV were on treatment and 80 percent of all children living with HIV were on ART.
To address some of the challenges facing adolescents regarding access to quality HIV care and treatment services, Africaid a community based organisation in Zimbabwe trough its Zvandiri programme set out to ensure that children, adolescents and young people living with HIV have the knowledge, skills and confidence to live happy, healthy, safe and fulfilled lives.
About 25 Kilometres from Mashonaland West capital is a small town called Banket where one Rutendo Mungofa (not real name) who was struggling to accept her HIV status lives joined the Zvandiri initiative became a Community Adolescent Treatment supporter popularly known as (CATS).
The 19 year old’s story is one where she had to shrug off stigma at school.
“As a person who had a bit of rashes the guys at my school never treated me really well and I decided to change the school and at this new school I was appreciated as any other child,” said Rutendo.
“Boys at that school which I left taunted me saying I should wear long socks unlike the ankle socks which exposed my rash.”
At Zvandiri, Rutendo finds the concept of fellowship among HIV positive adolescents more worthwhile.
“At Zvandiri we are taught to accept who we are. We also have support groups. The activities at Zvandiri include following up on youngsters who default on their medication and talk with their guardians about Zvandiri,” she said.
Upon her initial HIV test, the eloquent girl would skip her meds for she did not know the reason for taking them.
“I was first tested in 2009 and was put on Cotrimoxazole but my status wasn’t disclosed to me. So as time went on I wasn’t taking those tablets for I didn’t know why I was on that medication,” she said.
It was three years later that her brother’s death dealt her a huge blow which she is still recovering from. Worse yet, it is then that she learnt of her biological mother’s demise.
“In 2012 I then lost my brother and as a result I started getting all stressed since I had lost my only sibling and at that was the time I learnt my biological mum had died when I was only three and I only found out this through her grave no one told me!,” said Rutendo.
The eloquent lass accurately recalls the day she started the antiretroviral treatment.
“So due to stress I got postural hypertension and at one of my review days my doctor suggested that I should get tested and I was found HIV positive. After about six months I went for my CD4 count test and my copies were about 390 and I was initiated on ART which was on the 13th of September 2013,” she reminisces.
Through this hurt, she wants to rewrite her O Levels and pay the fees herself as a way to lessen the burden on her guardians. She stays with her aunt (mother’s sister) and uncle.
While touring Banket last week with the National Aids Council where Rutendo spoke, this reporter observed how most of the CATS support members chorused only receiving a ‘second family’ prompting him to seek confirmation if it was all there is.
In as much as Rutendo is very grateful for the second home and fellowship at Zvandiri, she feels much could be done to improve her livelihood.
“Even though its voluntary work we are doing we honestly do need money because most of us are in child headed families and the stipends we are getting are not enough for the upkeep of the family,” she said.
She yearns for a job or better yet funds for a project to pay for her outstanding ‘O’ Level subjects and buy spectacles for her myopia. Rutendo sits for these exams in November.
“I really need a job want to raise funds for my college. I need money to pay money to supplement failed exams. I will write in November,” she said.
Rutendo wants to be a beauty therapist or physiotherapist. “I just love that. That’s were my passion lays,” she says. She also wants to be a social worker.
Speaking to HealthTimes, Zvandiri Head of Programmes Ms Mather Mawodzeke said the issue of stipends is stipulated by the ministry of health and child care and the National Aids Council (NAC).
“Volunteer stipends are governed by such bodies as National AIDS Council and Ministry of Health and Child Care (we fall within the prescribed range).
“As you noted this is volunteer work and is not full time, they have flexible hours based on the cohort which they are supporting,” she explained.
Ms Mawodzeke argued that they have come up with programmes meant to assist CATS economically.
“We have in-cooperated economic strengthening activities especially for Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters so that they are able to start income generating projects,” said the Head of Programmes.
She added, “As part of the transition plan for the CATS, a number of them from all the districts of operation have been absorbed into fulltime work within Africaid. Some of them have also been absorbed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care Primary Counsellors and others by other NGOs as community volunteers focusing on adult populations. We know this may not be sufficient to cover all the numbers of the CATS we are supporting, however, a transition plan for the CATS into adulthood is well laid out.”
For Rutendo, a Banket adolescent, discovering her HIV positive status was the most draining part of her life. .
Zvandiri has reached out to over 2400 youngsters aged 10 and upwards in Zvimba District, according to the Focal Person Tracy Dumba.
Reaching as many adolescents in Banket is difficult as parents in the community claim that they parade their HIV Positive statuses to get pity, yet it’s not the case. CATS members are often given wrong addresses by youngsters whom they would have identified.
Getting a balanced diet as recommended by doctors is a hurdle for those living with HIV as they just have to contend with what is available to to get along.
After all is said and done, one recurring gift offered by Zvandiri is that adolescents get, “Hope, Faith and Charity but the greatest of these is Charity.”