YOUNG people from various communities In Zimbabwe converged for the AIDS2022 In Country Virtual Hub amidst growing calls for government to increase domestic funding towards HIV and AIDS programing.
By Michael Gwarisa
The five day in-country AIDS2022 In Country Virtual Hub was hosted by Zvandiri in Harare at Bronte Hotel following the denying of visas for most young people mainly from African countries to attend the in-person AIDS2022 Conference in Montreal Canada. Other African countries that held in country hubs include Eswatini, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Malawi.
In Zimbabwe, The Virtual Hubs ran from July 29 to August 2, 2022 with attendees drawn from young people with disabilities, young key populations, survivors of drug and substance use and young people living with HIV. Proceedings were supported by the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+), the National AIDS Council (NAC), and the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI).
In an interview with HealthTimes, Chamaine Matanda, the ZY+ Ready Focus Point said there was need to address inequalities in accessing critical health information and health services.
The AIDS 2022 In-Country Hub was actually designed to curb some of the inequalities in allocation of visas and resources for Africans to attend the AIDS 2022 Conference in Montreal Canada. We designed it to have a country hub where we would be getting sessions from Canada Montreal so that all young people in Zimbabwe can actually be aware of the advocacy agenda being shared at the AIDS 2022,” said Chamaine.
She added that they were utilizing the digital spaces available to meaningfully engage and stay switched-on with regards to the proceedings in Montreal.
“We had representatives from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, we had representatives from NAC, and we had representatives from youth led networks in the HIV response and healthcare providers from selected facilities in Harare.”
Young people who attended the conference in Harare raised concerns over the continued marginalisation of young people’s voices in the HIV response and also called on treasury to increase the budgetary allocation to health and HIV and AIDS.
Robert Chipazaure (24) said there was need for increased funding towards Key Populations (KP) programing in the national AIDS response.
“We still have a lot to do. We are only left with eight years to get to 2030 where the world targets to end AIDS. There are so many issues that are yet to be addressed with regards to HIV and AIDS among young people. We have found that in as much as we may say that we are advocating for a number things for young people, there are so many things that have not been addressed and many concerns of the young people are yet to be attended to.
“We haven’t been very deep with these young people in terms of addressing the challenges they face say as key populations. We need to have a serious discussion around domestic funding towards HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe. As it stands, we rely heavily on donors and that is not a sustainable state of affairs. We have a number of emerging health issues at the moment and donors are not going to focus on HIV and AIDS forever,” said Robert.
Yolanda Munyengwa (25) who was representing person with disabilities said, “Us as the people with disability are the most marginalized group in many activities and programing, decision making among others. Individuals with disabilities have equal or greater exposure to all known risk factors for HIV infection. For example, adolescents and adults with disabilities are likely as their non-disabled peers to be sexually active contrary to the general view that people with disabilities are not sexually active.”
She added that this misconception that person with disabilities are not sexually active hinders their chances of getting attention and access to healthcare services including HIV prevention, Care, Treatment and Support and Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services.
Nicole Nduku (22), highlighted the need to integrate HIV and AIDS services with mental health owing to the increased incidences of drug use among young people both living and those not living with HIV.
“We have learnt from this conference that there is a link between HIV and AIDS and drug use. As a country, we are currently facing an increase in drug abuse cases and this increases the risk of HIV transmission in young people as they won’t be thinking straight after getting intoxicated.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Violet Badze, a healthcare worker who was also in attendance at the In country hub concurred with Nicole and reiterated the need for integration of mental health and HIV and AIDS services.
“Drug abuse is on the increase and you find that a number of young people have abused drugs at an average of one year or more. There is need for integration of services. We are currently focusing more on HIV and adolescent but in the same vein, drug abusers are also adolescents who are also at greater risk of HIV. There is need for an interventions and for us as healthcare workers to know of the drug patterns of these young people so as to assist them and give services that suit them,” said Mrs Badze.