BY VANESSA GONYE recently in Gutu
Zimbabwe has been battling with HIV/Aids from as far back as the mid-1980s, when thousands started to succumb to the pandemic.
To date, the disease has no permanent cure though great strides have been made towards curbing the scourge.
Testing positive to HIV has been a nightmare for many as it is often associated with a lot of stigma and portrayed as a death sentence.
But for David Chinyamandana and his wife, Janet Zinyongo, testing positive to HIV was not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new and selfless life.
The two have been playing a vital role in Chinyika community of Gutu, where they have joined various awareness campaigns to alert people living around them on the benefits of getting tested for HIV and how to live positively.
Their story, similar to many in Gutu, dates back to the early 2000s when getting HIV services was still a mammoth task.
They would walk to Murambinda, which was nearer their home, to get the necessary services, sometimes spending several nights sleeping on shop verandas waiting for their turn to be attended.
Being initiated on treatment was also a huge challenge.
“I got tested in 2000 and the results were positive. I was not immediately put on treatment, so herbs became part of my life as I tried to suppress the virus for about four years,” recalls Janet.
Her breakthrough came in 2004, when she heard news of the availability of drugs at Murambinda Hospital and determined to live longer; she got herself initiated on treatment.
“After hearing the news of drugs which would suppress the virus, I quickly embarked on the journey that was set to change my life. I went to Murambinda determined to ensure that I got the treatment so as to fulfil my desire to live longer,” she said.
However, luck was not on her side as they required couples at the hospital before they could initiate one on treatment.
She quickly hatched a plan to ensure she was put on treatment immediately and it worked.
“When I was told they were assisting couples only, I went around the hospital looking for a ‘partner’ and got one and we posed as a married couple and succeeded; that is how I got on treatment,” she said.
She has been an active participant in the fight against HIV/Aids and that is how she found herself a life partner, David, who also discovered he was HIV positive in 2007.
The couple has been role models in the community regarding HIV/Aids and their work speaks a lot about this year’s World AIDS day theme: Communities make the difference.
They have also been active participants and have aided Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in their effort to work on the remaining 10% in the 90-90-90 Aids treatment target in Gutu district, which was one of the areas greatly affected by HIV.
The 90-90-90 strategy outlines the need to reduce new HIV infections and Aids-related deaths by 90% by 2030, with the 2010 levels being the benchmark.
To achieve this, the fast-track strategy sets out to reduce new annual HIV infections to fewer than 500 000 by 2020 and to fewer than 200 000 by 2030, and ultimately end Aids as a public health threat.
Janet has been a Community HIV/AIDS Support Agent (CHASA) and has maintained stable health through active participation in a number of community initiatives to do with the pandemic, something she says, has increased her awareness and increased her life-span, as this has enabled her to closely monitor her condition and remain healthy.
David has, however, been unfortunate in his fight against the pandemic as he developed a resistance to first line treatment, despite adhering to his treatment regime.
His viral load remained too high despite him diligently taking his ARVs, with the aid of Janet, who is highly committed to help everyone fight the disease.
For David, a self-confessed pleasure-seeker during his youthful days while working as a barman at Ziscosteel in Redcliff, news of moving to second line treatment was what he least expected, despite being seriously ill.
He thought it was proof that he was about to die and this played badly on his emotions, but with the help of mentors from MSF and counsellors he has been able to hold on, becoming a success story in the management of HIV on second line treatment.
“When I was told that I was to be moved to second line drugs, I cried because I was afraid of dying due to the inconsistencies surrounding second line treatment, which is usually not available, but things have been different through the intervention of MSF, I narrowly escaped death,” he said.
The role of the community in the fight against HIV has been immense over the years, and in Gutu, through awareness initiatives by MSF, many have embraced the idea of knowing their status and living positively, while defaulters have had a change of mind, resuming their treatment regimes.
For Eresina Maramwidze, her road to living positively has been different.
She discovered her condition having gone for three years testing negative, despite being sick for the greater part of the period and finally testing positive, a change which gave her a new lease of life, and she has devoted herself to living positively, adhering to medication at all costs.
Maramwidze’s stance and insistence on being tested for HIV was aided by the fact that she followed closely advice given to her by CHASA to get tested and know her status, given her chronic illness.
She took heed of their advice until her fears were proven, but quickly accepted what fate had in store for her.
“I accepted my final HIV result with a clear mind and made it a point to religiously take my medication, I was in pain for over three years so the diagnosis came as a relief,” she said.
Gutu district medical officer, Nhamo Chivhuru, said Maramwidze’s condition may have been necessitated by three factors.
“It is possible for a person to go for HIV testing for a number of times with the virus remaining undetected. It could be a result of three factors; if the person conducting it was doing it properly, the issue of antibodies (you might test negative, but that would not be the case or there will be need for advanced methods of testing,” he said.
He hailed MSF for its efforts to advance HIV issues in the district.
MSF nurse-mentor, Tinashe Mbirimi said they have helped more than 12 000 people on anti-retroviral treatment, with the majority coming from outside Gutu, taking advantage of their presence.
“There is still need for interventions on HIV in other areas because it is still dominant. Community is key in the fight against the virus. Gutu community has been instrumental and active in this HIV project,” he said.