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Bug Off! AIDS in Africa

Map of Zimbabwe
Here in Sub-Saharan Africa a very dangerous and relatively new 'insect' has been spreading and killing off millions of people of all walks of life. No, it is not the malaria-carrying mosquito, which is responsible for more deaths in Africa than lions, hippos or leopards. No, this insect is even scarier. Many don't understand why or when the 'insect' attacks, but one thing they do know for sure is that once the insect bites, NO CURE. This 'insect' as many still refer to it in rural Zimbabwe, has been plaguing the entire world since it was first contrived in the early 1980's: AIDS.

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Got to get
the word out
AIDS, the auto-immune deficiency syndrome, is a deadly disease that is contrived by people who have caught the HIV virus. UNAIDS estimated that by the end of 1997 there were 30.6 million people infected with HIV in the world; 20.8 million of these are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa... that's over 68%! They estimated that 3.8 million infants were born with HIV in the world and that 90% of them were born in Africa.

Here in Zimbabwe, AIDS has become a critical issue in the past 15 years. Today it is estimated that one out of every 5 adults, or 20% of the population, is HIV positive, and to make matters worse, most don't even know they have the virus.

An important aspect to the counseling services MAC provides is information on how to live positively with HIV. They empower individuals who have tested HIV positive, by helping them to understand exactly what the virus does, how to help themselves, and most importantly, how to live positively now that they know they have it. Theyencourage people not to blame themselves or others, to learn from the past, but live for the present and the future. They remind people that there can be many more years of healthy life to live and to consider what their priorities are and to go for them. They advise them to seek help from a counselor or friends and to remember that they are not alone facing these problems. Here's some feedback they have received from this type of advice:

"For me, in an odd sort of way, it was partly a relief when I found out I had HIV. I'd been worrying about it for so long. Now I know what I'm facing, I know what I'm dealing with. Of course it's upsetting, but I get on with living my life, rather than worrying all the time."--Simba, Mutare Zimbabwe

"I know it sounds silly, but I'm actually healthier now than I ever was, because I look after myself so much better. I value life more now that I know I have HIV. I'm glad I found out, however painful it was. I needed to know."--Margaret, Harare, Zimbabwe

Like the rest of the world, Zimbabwe soon organized and started formulating strategies to combat this deadly 'insect'. It has been a long, uphill battle trying to rid people of misconceptions and traditional stereotypes about HIV and AIDS. Many Zimbabweans live in small villages that aren't so quick to accept new modern ideas, but every effort has been made to make AIDS education as accessible as possible. Since the 1990's, it has been the youth of Zimbabwe that have been on the forefront of this struggle. Here in Bulawayo, I got to visit the Matabeleland Aids Council (MAC) Youth Group and see just what the kids of Zimbabwe are doing to combat this problem that affects us all.

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How would you promote AIDS awareness?
The Youth Group at MAC consists of a number of student leaders from high schools all over the Bulawayo area. Since 1993, when the program first started, MAC has been going around to all the high schools and forming AIDS Action clubs. These clubs consist of students interested in spreading education and providing resources to their areas. Each year, a couple of students from each of the clubs are selected to go through the MAC training program to become peer educators. Once trained, they then take their own initiative to act as leaders to carry on AIDS awareness in their neighborhoods.

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Tatendah, Kindness and Hazvinei are doing their peers a big service
The first person I met while sitting in the MAC library, a free resource center open for all to use, was Kindness Companion Mangena. Yes, that's his name, and it proved to be very appropriate! Kindness is 19 years old and was selected to be trained as a peer educator two years ago. Soon Tatenda, 19, and Hazvinei, who just turned 20 on the 4th of July (Happy Birthday Hazvinei!) also showed up. I've been so impressed by all the youth I have met who are involved with MAC. They are all very bright, articulate, and motivated. They all have gone through MAC's one week training, a time they all enjoyed where they got to meet a number of peers from different high schools. There they learned about HIV and AIDS, drug use, STDs, methods of prevention, about testing for HIV, how to live positively with HIV, and most importantly, how to be effective at conveying these messages to their communities.

Want to find out more about how the AIDS campaign in Zimbabwe is going, or do you want a Zimbabwean pen pal? Well, Kindness, Hazvinei, and Tatenda would love to hear from you:

Kindness Companion Mangena (19 years old)
4 Shaw Close
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Hazvinei Barbara Zvidzayi (turning 20 soon!)
30 Evesham Road
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Tatenda Chakanyuka
96 Dundee Drive
Barham Green
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

"Too many people think 'it's not going to happen to me,'" says Tatenda. "People don't realize the impact. It seems the AIDS education is most effective with the young children. Adults have the attitude that they already know all about it. The problem is they don't think about it or think it over."

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Kindness has the perfect name!
After going through the training, the peer educators start coming in whenever they can to find out about coming events or what needs to get done. This coming weekend all the high schools in Bulawayo are having a basketball tournament. There will be thousands of youth attending, a perfect opportunity to spread more AIDS education. Kindness, Hazvinei, and Tatenda are currently busy preparing for it. MAC is going to have a table complete with pamphlets, condoms, hats, T-shirts, all kinds of things to get the message across. There's also going to be a High School Quiz on AIDS, that the youth group is running. Monica and I are going to try to check out both, so we'll let you know how it goes!

Check out my next story to learn about an amazing project some of the youth that live around Bulawayo just completed!


Abeja - It's Good to be King! Or is it?
Kavitha - Misconceptions about AIDS in Zimbabwe
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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