HIV stigma curtailing positive living
Being found HIV positive and choosing to live positively can be an easy thing to do, what makes it hard is living in a community that constantly reminds you that your health is in danger.
At five months pregnant, Susan discovered that she was HIV positive and since then life has not been easy for her.
“I am a strong person mentally but the things that people say when I tell them about my status are difficult to take. Sometimes it takes God to get through a day,” says 26 year old Susan of Chiyuni village in Kembe, Chibombo district.
A housewife and mother of one, she started getting sick when she was four months pregnant. She was initially treated for malaria, but her condition continued worsening.
Nursing staff at Chitanda Rural Health Centre later referred her to Liteta Hospital, 90km from Chitanda, where a pneumonia test came out positive.
Despite commencing treatment for pneumonia, the discomfort and pain in her entire body persisted.
After the pneumonia treatment, Susan and her husband were then tested for HIV and both were positive.
“I had heard about HIV before but never thought I could get the disease (virus) so yes I was shocked. After counseling, we were put on medication and I got better. I was determined to give birth to a healthy baby so HIV became just like any other disease.”
While some friends and family members have distanced themselves from Susan and her husband, others ask how she contracted the virus, as well as how she intends to live the rest of her life with HIV.
“I have been asked a lot of demeaning questions most of which insinuate that I was promiscuous. But the worst statement I have received and this I have had people say to me more than once was ‘If I were you and I found I was HIV positive, I would kill myself’,” explains Susan.
She says while such statements can hurt like a knife to the heart, however she continues to live positively and does not hide her status. For Susan, raising her daughter is much more of a challenge and a concern than what people have to say about her condition.
Although her 14months old baby is HIV negative, her health from birth has been greatly affected by the lack of proper nutrition. She was forced to immediately put her child on supplementary feeding soon after delivery when her breasts failed to produce adequate milk for the baby.
Months later, Susan said she switched to Super Shake (Maheu), a much cheaper option compared to a tin of formulae which costs about K30, 000 and lasts less than a week.
She is worried that her daughter may suffer from malnutrition and is eager to get knowledge on what other options are available for a child who is basically living on Super Shake instead of breast feeding as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for children upto two years or more.
For Susan and hundreds of mothers in the Kembe area, the sensitization on stigma, nutrition and other health issues that they desperately need may not be too far away.
Alliance for Community Action on HIV and AIDS (Alliance Zambia) with support from Save the Children Sweden (SCS) is looking into starting a project to address issues on Maternal and Child Health. The organisation was recently in Kembe to identify maternal health concerns and also identify key stakeholders that can be engaged on the SCS project. The visiting group also conducted a community mapping exercise of maternal health services in the area which included a visit to Chitanda Rural Health Center.
The SCS project will work towards contributing to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5; to reduce mortality and morbidity rates for children Under Five years old in Zambia by 2014 by two thirds and to promote safe motherhood, improve maternal health in Zambia by 2014 and reduce maternal mortality by three quarters respectively.
Alliance Zambia Programmes Manager, Shupe Makashinyi, said that one of the many activities of the project which is already underway in the populated area of Mandevu in Lusaka includes sensitization on nutrition which is key to maintaining the good health of a mother and child.
The Smart- Care System may also be strengthened should the project go ahead in the area.
“We have already identified gaps in the Smart Care System. We have discovered that there is only one computer at Chitanda Rural Health Clinic (which has 472 women on ART).
To address this problem we would consider bringing in another computer to hasten the process of filing information. By sorting out this problem, we are not only helping out the healthcare providers but families because when a mother goes for ante-natal she will now not spend too much time at the clinic. She will be attended to in record time and return home quickly to attend to other duties” explained Mrs Makashinyi.
Operating as a non-governmental organisation, Alliance Zambia established in 2008, has been affiliated to the International HIV/AIDS Alliance since 1999. The organisation works in tandem with National AIDS Strategic Framework providing technical and financial support to Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
It implements capacity-building activities which strengthen community based HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care and Support responses including Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), Maternal, Neo-natal and Child Health (MNCH), Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), and anti-stigma and discrimination programmes.
The organisation, in collaboration with the ministries of Health and Community Development Mother and Child Health, has been implementing healthcare programmes in Lusaka, Eastern, Southern and Copperbelt provinces.
wIf all goes according to plan, the Maternal and Child Health project will help people like Susan who seek information on nutrition and other services.
The Central Statistical Office puts the Kembe catchment area at 21, 977, but local officials say the number currently stands at 29, 000.
(This article first appeared on pokeyourmind blog)