Zimbabwe Battles AIDS Stigma

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Africa News Update

Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and Aids is still a major barrier in the fight against the disease even though more than 95 percent of Zimbabweans now know about the pandemic.

Population Services International (Zimbabwe) launched the second Anti-Stigma Campaign in Bulawayo, the second largest city, to help scale up partnerships and activities in the fight against the pandemic.

The launch of the campaign was memorable in many ways. Using the power of music, dance, poetry and testimonials from people living with HIV and Aids, the launch of the campaign at the Large City Hall made a significant impact on young people's attitudes and behavior by providing them with necessary information to lead healthy lifestyles.

Zimbabwe musical icon, Oliver Mtukudzi who was the guest of honor, electrified the jam-packed Large City Hall strumming his guitar and churning out his powerful tunes on Aids. One theme that constantly came out of Mtukudzi's songs was that  Zimbabweans should speak out about the pandemic and that each and every Zimbabwean had a duty to confront the disease.

"Vakuru vakuru havataure, iyesu vakuru vakuru tisu tinofanira kudzikisa ruzivo pasi kune vasingazive," he said after belting out his famous sing-along tune 'Todini'. (Roughly translated: “Top politicians must take the lead in raising awareness on the Aids pandemic.�)

PSI country director Michael Chommie said the second Anti-Stigma Campaign builds on the impact of the previous one raising awareness on the risks of unsafe sexual behavior, discrimination and stigmatization of people living with HIV and Aids.

He said the first campaign gave four ordinary Zimbabweans living with the disease a platform to dismiss the half-truths, to enlighten their communities and talk about living instead of “crossing a red robot.�

"We hope all Zimbabweans will soon recognize that HIV and Aids affects everyone, not a single walk of life is untouched by the pandemic," Chommie said.

"We cannot remain silent at funerals, we should not disguise the disease by a vague reference to 'waiting in the departure lounge.' We need to learn that HIV is a chronic illness that can be managed and that you can live a long, happy and productive life."

The Mpopoma High School dance group was the first to take to the podium with their captivating choral music and dance style, which reminded delegates at the launch that there is a need to take children's issues seriously in the face of the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS. They sang and danced about the need for hope, for love, for support and caring of people living with HIV and Aids.

Celebrated Zimbabwe poet and musician, Albert Nyathi in his poem titled: "De-Stigmatize Stigma" challenged Zimbabweans to unite and fight against discrimination and stigma which was still showing its ugly fangs. “Stigma is cancerous, Stigma is racism, Stigma is apartheid showing its ugly fangs…�

Nyathi said artists in the creative industry should be helped to keep abreast with new developments in the dissemination of information in the fight against the disease. "Some of our works were blaming people, they were scary. Let’s change direction, it is not time to cry, we have cried enough. As artists we need help to keep up with new trends in the fight against stigma," he said.

Said Mtukudzi: "Whatever stigma is there, it is just lack of love. If there is love, there is no room for stigma." He added that people had to take advice seriously and learn to play it safe.

Pastor Maxwell Kapachawo, Joana Kasirori a high school teacher and college lecturer Davies Mazodze all spoke strongly about the need for Zimbabweans to break down the silence and prejudice surrounding this disease.

Their messages centered on the fact that Aids affects everyone –rich or poor, young or old, that the majority of the victims are adults in the prime of their working and parenting lives and that with counseling and support, with access to ARVs–people living with disease can lead productive lives.

"When communities see their leaders talking about HIV and Aids openly, it will liberate them," said Pastor Kapachawo who is HIV positive and knew about his status in 2004.

He said he got much inspiration from a Ugandan cleric Canon Gideon Bymugisha, the first priest to be open about his HIV status in Africa. "I was challenged and encouraged so much by his words. How one is managing with the virus promotes life and dialogue," he said.

"Human life is the greatest asset which God has. For God there is nothing surprising about HIV. We pastors must transform it into things like compassion, non-discrimination and non-judgementalism in order to alleviate our suffering.�

Tsiko is The Black Star News' Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.

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