Zimbabwe remains one of the countries burdened by HIV/AIDS globally with 1.4 million people living with HIV (PLHIV). Annually,12.8 percent of adults are living with HIV between the ages of 15-49, and 40,000 new HIV infections are being realized (UNAIDS 2020). People are still dying of HIV/AIDS-related diseases with an estimated number of 20,000 people while 86 percent of adults in Zimbabwe living with HIV are on life-saving antiretroviral treatment. Children as well are not being spared as 71 percent of children living with HIV, are on antiretroviral treatment. (UNAIDS Data 2020)
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”-Hosea 4:6, There is hope for everyone living with HIV and communities should help fight HIV. According to AIDSinfo (UNAIDS), a third of all new HIV infections in people above the age of 15 in Zimbabwe were among young people (under the age of 24). 9,000 new infections among young women, and 4,200 were realized in 2018. Young men are still less likely to get tested, as 52 percent of young men had tested for HIV compared to 65 percent of women. (ZIMPHIA 2016).
In Zimbabwe, of the 1.4 million PLHIV, 97 percent are on the antiretroviral therapy (ART) program. Among PLHIV (15-64 years) who self-report current use of ART, 90.3 percent are virally suppressed (ZIMPHIA, 2020).
Though HIV/AIDS is nearing epidemic control, some sections of the population still lag in terms of accessing services, thereby derailing the gains achieved so far in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Globally, young people are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors than older adults, making them vulnerable to HIV, and yet some fear testing positive and eventually disclose their status. However, new choices of HIV/AIDS diagnostic tests have been brought up in healthcare systems to address the challenges of fear of discrimination, and concerns about confidentiality. Through the use of HIV self-testing kits, one can test in the privacy of their own homes. HIV self-testing is very safe, accurate, and easy to use. There are different kinds of HIV tests which include blood tests and saliva tests, and some are performed by healthcare workers. HIV Self-test kits are offered for free in all health facilities (clinics and hospitals).
Unprotected sex is the most common route of HIV infection among young people and some this is the result of being forced to have unprotected sex or to inject drugs, and for some, it may be a lack of having the correct knowledge about HIV and how to prevent it. (WHO 2013). Though still experiencing a low uptake, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure prophylaxis are among the HIV/AIDS prevention strategies for high-risk populations as well as for adolescent girls and young women as they are among the HIV prevention strategies priority list. Both PEP and PrEP are daily dose courses of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) taken by an HIV-negative person to protect themselves from infection.
The Zimbabwe Association of Church-Related Hospitals (ZACH) in partnership with Africaid – Zvandiri is expanding targeted index case testing for children and adolescents at Community Post and other health facilities through Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters (CATS). This is aimed at addressing barriers to testing access. According to WHO, index testing is when members of a household, biological children, and partners of people diagnosed with HIV are offered HIV testing services. Partner notification services are offered by asking people who have been diagnosed with HIV to list their sexual partners; a trained healthcare provider then contacts and offers those partners an HIV test.
Stigma and discrimination have for years been a stumbling block in the lives of young people living with HIV, and healthcare workers are pivotal in offering to counsel, and providing support and life skills required to cope with stigma. Most people living with HIV /AIDS who take antiretroviral drugs assume that they shall be stigmatized if seen taking many pills.
A survey by ZNNP+ established forms of stigma as ranging from exclusion from gatherings, discrimination by partners, exclusion from family activities, dismissal or suspension from work or educational institutions, exclusion from religious activities or places of worship, and sexual rejection to discrimination from among PLHIV.
Despite the rampant stigma, HIV also gave rise to resilience, courage, and willpower.
So how do we, the HIV community – affected by HIV, who are living with HIV or who are vulnerable to HIV – move beyond stigma to normalizing HIV?
It is, however, everyone’s responsibility to fight HIV stigma and discrimination!
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