Faith and Community Initiative Launched To Accelerate Attainment Of HIV Epidemic Control In Zimbabwe

THE Faith and Community Initiative (FCI) project, a programme which is aimed at scaling-up community and faith responses, which are central to achieving the 95–95–95 global treatment target and the PEPFAR goals focusing on impact, efficiency, sustainability, partnership, and human rights.

By Michael Gwarisa

The initiative is being supported by PEPFAR and USAID and the Organization for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID) and implementing partners, Zimbabwe Association of Church Related Hospitals (ZACH), Family Aids Caring Trust – FACT Zimbabwe and AFRICAID are launching the Faith and Community Initiative FCI) Project across Zimbabwe.

Speaking at the official launch, OPHID Director of Programs Director , Sara Page Mtongwiza said  attaining epidemic control was not possible without involving communities, traditional and faith leaders.

The Faith and Community Initiative (FCI) is coming out of PEPFAR. Remember in 2018, through the office of the Vice President of the United States of America (USA), Michael Pence invested US$100 Million into working with Faith Based Organisations and Communities.

“It was really felt that as we are approaching epidemic control, as you are aware as a country we are working towards the 95-95-95 targets and as Zimbabwe we are very close to achieving epidemic control but we will nont get there without the faith communities, without the traditional leaders and without the communities coming on board,” said Sara

She added that the FCI was a multi country initiative which cuts across Southern and Eastern Africa and it recognises the progress and work that has been done so far concerning HIV and AIDS control by various countries, Zimbabwe included.

“We are learning from good practices, picking the successes, the good practices, the innovations that the faith community networks have brought to the HIV prevention, care and treatment work. We know that faith influences health, 84% of the world population is religiously affiliated. So, we do understand and we practice our actions and we practice our beliefs within a faith system.

[pullquote]“It is important that as we talk to people about their health, we also recognise the context in which they understand the health, understanding health outcomes, understanding the actions that they take for health. It is a comprehensive approach; it isn’t just the clinical or medical but its is looking at the person holistically.”[/pullquote]

She also said the programme was two pronged with two priorities the first one being engaging communities of faith to reach to men, children with testing services and help them understand the epidemic and help raise community awareness.

“We are working through faith communities’ structures and existing faith-based organisations. The second prong to this program is strengthening justice for children and again it is working through the same networks, faith-based organisations but also the justice sector.

“Consistent data shows that men are not coming to the health facilities. World wide its known that health seeking behaviour is different between men and women. We have differences in HIV testing, differences in treatment uptake, differences in retention. We need to get a way to reach to reach to boys, young men as well as adult men,” said Page.

Working closely with faith and community leaders, the project seeks to disseminate the correct and up to date information which can be used to advocate and promote demand and utilization of available services for the prevention, treatment of HIV services which are available in the country.

ZACH Technical Advisor-Advocacy and Communications, Shamiso Yikoniko making her presentation

Speaking at the event, ZACH Technical Advisor-Advocacy and Communications, Shamiso Yikoniko said for priority two, the initiative is also concentrating on sexual violence, evidence-based interventions, safeguarding policies and justice for children.

“The activities that will be engaged in include dissemination of new messages of hope, expanding case finding through HIV self-testing, linkage and retention for men, adolescents and children as well as addressing the stigma and non-adherence related to faith healing.

“Usually when people talk about faith, they always think of churches but also under the FCI, we recognise the role of traditional leaders and healers and their contribution towards epidemic control. As for the FCI program, we are looking at eight districts which are Tsholotsho, Lupane, Umguza, Mt Darwin, Mazowe, Goromonzi, Zvimba and Harare,” said  Yikonoko.

She added that two community posts have already been established in Harare. Community posts are decentralised services delivered in the community which are meant to overcome some of the barriers to accessing care. The two community posts that have been established to date are in Highfields (Gazaland) and Mbare as a means of taking services to the people under one roof.

“With these community posts, we are working with Africaid with what we call the FCI champions. The FCI champions go into the community and disseminate the messages of hope distributing HIV self-testing kits. We have distributed 2874 kits which have been distributed and 2708 have been used.”

FACT Deputy Director, Jennifer Tavengerwei making her presentation at the FCI Launch

FACT Deputy Director, Jenifer Tavengerwei said FACT has facilitating and implementing the Coaching Boys to Men model where 121 Coaching Boys Into Men coaches were selected and trained 58 Families Matter Facilitators received families matter and the Faith Matters training and conducted sessions for 2378 caregivers of   9-14 year olds.

Mather Mawodzeke Head of Programs Africaid Zvandiri makes presentation at the FCI launch

Mather Mawodzeke Head of Programs Africaid Zvandiri said through the FCI, they been engaging communities of faith to reach men and children with testing and services, understand the epidemic, and raise community awareness.

Meanwhile, Reverend Innocent Chitanda from UDACIZA, an grouping of Christian denominations said religious leaders play a critical role in counselling, leadership and advocacy in different communities.

“Thus, many people living with HIV (PLHIV) have identified religion as a resource. The reason why it is critical for religious leaders to develop life-giving theologies that promote adherence in the context of HIV and AIDS.

Reverend Innocent Chitanda from UDACIZA makes presentation at the FCI launch

“Although many factors affect adherence (patient related factors such as acceptance, disclosure, and family support/ accessibility of medical centres; social support e.t.c, research also indicate that claims of “faith healing” or “miraculous healing of HIV” are a major stumbling block towards reaching the 95-95-95 UN global goals towards HIV control,” said Rev Chitanda.






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