In Zimbabwe, we are supporting community-led development and a programme to tackle HIV stigma
Nearly 1.2 million adults in Zimbabwe are living with HIV (UNAIDS, 2011), yet few people feel comfortable talking about it.
The stigma surrounding HIV means lives are being lost because people are reluctant to ask questions or come forward for testing and treatment.
HIV also creates poverty. As lives are lost, households lose income. Sometimes children are sent out to work to make ends meet, but they miss out on school and the chance of an education and better-paid employment in the future. And so the cycle of poverty continues.
However, a new initiative is helping to tackle stigma. USPG and the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe are working with secular organisations – such as UNAIDS and ZNNP+ (Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV) – to role out a research programme that is uncovering what life is like for people with HIV so policy-makers are better informed to develop national HIV strategies.
HIV stigma affects all sectors of society
To date, the research has shown that people with HIV face stigma in all sectors of Zimbabwean society, including the church, where only 26 per cent of people with HIV felt comfortable enough to share their HIV status with their church leader.
The survey found that thousands of children are being expelled or suspended from school because their parents are HIV-positive.
Young people (aged 15 to 19) were found to be particularly sensitive to stigma. Only 3 per cent of those approached were willing to take part in the survey.
Mucha Mukamuri, Executive Director of ZNNP+, said: ‘Stigma remains a major barrier for people living with HIV in Zimbabwe. We have been able to share with politicians empirical evidence of the stigma, and this is galvanising a political will to tackle the problem.’
The findings are being used as a part of an awareness-raising campaign to try and tackle stigma. This include meetings at Anglican, Methodist and other churches.
Mucha said: ‘We want to enable understanding among faith communities. We want churches to create an environment in which people can openly disclose their status.’
It is hoped the research will be used to help break down HIV stigma in the church, helping people to talk more openly about God’s care for people with HIV.
Struggling to overcoming HIV stigma: Maxwell's story
The Revd Maxwell Kapachawo is one of a number of people and agencies (including UNAIDS) that are working with USPG to tackle HIV-related stigma in Zimbabwe.
Maxwell (pictured) is well-qualified to tackle the subject. He put his vocation and livelihood at risk by taking the brave step of declaring publicly that he is HIV-positive. On two occasions, he was asked to leave by the churches he was overseeing.
But he has now found a church that has accepted him, and the congregation has started talking about what they can do to improve care for people with HIV.
Maxwell explained: ‘I felt I had to speak out. The church must not shy away from HIV. It needs to be a place of healing and care. The church is at the heart of communities and, when we get it right, we can have a massive impact.
He added: ‘Everyone in Zimbabwe has family or friends who are no longer here because of HIV. There are many orphans. So we cannot keep running away from HIV. We must work together and, as a result, I hope people will learn about HIV and lives will be saved.’
New approach to development is revitalising communities
Villagers in Zimbabwe are benefitting from a new way of doing development that encourages communities to kick-start their own income generation projects.
The process – often referred to as Church and Community Mobilisation (CCM) – is being implemented by churches around the world, with the support of USPG.
Through CCM, the church brings the community together to discuss their concerns, identify local skills and resources, then formulate an action plan to make a difference.