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Misconceptions about AIDS in Zimbabwe

Map of Zimbabwe
For the many people that live outside the city borders, the Matabeleland Aids Council (MAC) Youth Group runs an Information Center in Entumbane, one of the high density suburbs, or townships, that surrounds Bulawayo. Many of the friends that Kindness, Hazvinei, and Tatenda met during their training camps work out at that Information Center. (See my other dispatch to meet these three!)

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Mrs. Xaba who started the survey
Most statistics on AIDS in Zimbabwe are out of date and inaccurate because the stats are only taken from formal workplaces and schools. What about the large population of Zimbabweans who do not attend school or work in the formal work sector? Mrs. Xoliswa Xaba, who works at MAC, realized this was a glaring omission and started a pilot survey to attack this issue.

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Me with a
group of the peer educators who conducted the survey
"There are a number of people that work in the informal work sector here in Zimbabwe," explains Xaba, as she is called. "These are the people that bake and sew and the artists who sell their goods in the street markets, the people who clean houses or take care of children, all the vegetable vendors you see outside. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is staggering, so people need to find means in other ways. I have found that most of the people employed in the formal sector are men, so this survey will get better statistics on women, too."

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Manford and Sinothile joking around with messages for youth

People all over the world hold a number of misconceptions about AIDS and how it spreads. In the U.S., for example, there are still a number of people who believe that AIDS only affects IV drug users or homosexuals. Here in Zimbabwe, people in rural areas still live according to traditional values and the modern medical approach to AIDS isn't always easily accepted. Here are just a few of the popular stories and misconceptions people have about AIDS in this country:

As already mentioned, people in villages sometimes refer to AIDS as the 'insect'. Once contrived, the individual is ‘eaten up' slowly and becomes thinner and thinner. Local gossip often focuses mainly on girls. It is said that only girls who have no ‘ears' get pregnant before marriage or contract an STD or the HIV virus. Having no ‘ears' signifies that the girls haven't listened to their elders.

Many men believe that having sex with a virgin would cleanse them of their STDs. They would go look for a young girl and force her to have sex with him. Of course instead of cleansing the man of his problem, this awful misconception merely passes his problem on to a new young victim. This is how so many young girls end up with AIDS, other STDs, or babies at a young age.

When the youth were conducting their survey in Entumbane, they were surprised to hear from a number of households the belief that using condoms is what actually gives you AIDS! It seems people who have received free condoms in the area have taken to filling the condoms with water and hanging them from the ceiling for 3 days. After 3 days they claim they can see organisms swimming in the water, and this is what causes the HIV virus! hmmm.........

Just outside of Bulawayo in the high density suburb of Entumbane, Xaba organized some of the many youth leaders in the area to conduct the survey. Although Xaba oversaw the project, she works in the center office in Bulawayo. It was the youth that live locally around Entumbane that really did the ground work. I met two of them yesterday: Manford, who is 21 years old, and Sinothile, who is 19 years old. For 2 months, they spent their evenings and weekends going from house to house asking the different members of the families a number of questions. They tried to catch people when they were at home and did the interviews in Ndebele, the native language, so as not to leave anyone out, and people could choose to do an oral or written interview. They asked people about their knowledge of AIDS, if they or anyone in their family had contracted it or died from it, if they have ever had pre-marital sex or sex with multiple partners, if they use contraception, if they have ever been tested, if they think a lot of people have HIV or know how to care for someone who does, and the list goes on.

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My new friend Sinothele getting her hair done
Manford and Sinothile laughed as they recounted some of the misconceptions they heard during their survey (see SIDEBAR). They were very surprised that even after all the education in the schools and after the opening of the Information Center in Entumbane that such misconceptions still exist. They were very thorough and have already completed the pilot survey, successfully documenting case studies of over 700 adults. All this data is now being entered and looked at for trends and statistics. The results should be ready soon and will surely be very useful to get a better overall understanding of the current AIDS situation and how effective all the AIDS education over the past few years has been. This will be useful locally as well as nationally to help update the government's AIDS statistics.

Manford and Sinothile would both love to hear from you. Have you ever written someone in Zimbabwe? Here's your chance:
Manford George Ncube (21 years old)
3543 Nkulumane
P.O. Nkulumane
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Sinothile Baloyi (19 years old)
31238 Entumbane
P.O. Entumbane
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Sinothile and Manford were excited at the opportunity to start communication with youth in other parts of the world about AIDS and other issues that they face. Here's something they wanted to say to people in other parts of the world: "Foreign media has painted an exaggerated picture of the AIDS situation in Zimbabwe," says Sinothile. "AIDS is here, yes. But we're not ALL infected. We're just like other youth, not every kid is an orphan. Yes, the epidemic is there, BUT we are also doing something about it. We're working for a change."

"Think positive-Stay Negative!" chimed in Manford. "Take control of your life, you've got a lot to gain if you don't spoil it." "You should enjoy yourself because being young is fun!" they both agreed. "Don't just throw away your youth because you can't get it back if you lose it."


Abeja - It's Good to be King! Or is it?
Kavitha - Bug Off! AIDS in Africa
Kevin - 202 Smiles at the End of a School Day
Monica "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"
Shawn - The King and I
Making A Difference - Paint a Perfect Picture

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