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Insiza Community Organisation Breaks HIV Barriers, Empowers Lives

Insiza Godlwayo Aids Council conducting an integrated mother-baby course on an intervention on mental health. Image by Mpumelelo Moyo

A community organisation in Matabeleland South is breaking down barriers and providing vital support to individuals living with HIV. Through counselling, education, and financial assistance, they are changing lives and challenging the stigma surrounding the virus.

BY LYNNIA NGWENYA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JUN 14, 2023

INSIZA (The Citizen Bulletin) — Ester Ncube 24* who resides at Nkankezi village, Insiza in Matabeleland South recalls the stigma she suffered when was sickly with HIV.

“I got very sick when I was 19 and was taken to Filabusi hospital where I stayed for a long time. I tested positive for HIV,” Ncube says.

“Testing HIV positive and seeing my body degenerate and wilt away was emotionally devastating. The thought that I would face discrimination never left my mind.”

After she was discharged from hospital, Ncube went to stay with her grandmother.

“People would talk about how I contracted the disease, even in my presence.  I still recall how they would judge me for living a 'loose' life.”
Ester Ncube*, a 24-year-old

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), stigma is a significant barrier to HIV treatment and management.

“Self-stigma is experiencing negative judgments towards oneself resulting in feelings of worthlessness, shame and emotional distress,” the NIH says.

“Researchers found that self-stigma can be experienced almost three times more than social stigma, demonstrating a need to both better understand and address this phenomenon.”

United Nations Children (UNICEF) Zimbabwe notes that 117 000 young people aged 15-24 are living with HIV, but stigma and discrimination remains a challenge.

“While knowledge about HIV has increased, many people living with HIV are still facing stigmatisation,” UNICEF reports.

Sphiwe Xaba 17*, who was born HIV positive, says she ended up dropping out of school due to lack of psycho support.

“Sometimes if you lack support you won’t realise the importance of taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) correctly,” Xaba says.

“I used to have frequent illnesses like consistent headache, diarrhoea, persistent cough and sores due to defaulting medication, and due to poor health, I ended up dropping out of school.”

While suicide is a major mortality cause in the whole world, the incidence of suicidal behaviour of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) is three times higher than that of the general population, according to the NIH.

“Furthermore, suicide mortality rates among PLHIV have continued to increase annually from 0.15 per 100 person-years (PY) in 1988 to 2008 to 0.47 per 100 PY in 2011 to 2012, whereas deaths from suicide have increased threefold,” reads NIV.

Due to stigma, PLHIV are three time more suicidal than that of the general population. Image by World Health Organisation 

Ncube says she also once contemplated committing suicide.

“I drank a poisonous substance so that I could end all my sorrows,” Ncube says,

“Everyday, I would put all the blame on my parents, who died and left me alone at home without guidance.”

In Insiza, a community based organisation, Insiza Godlwayo Aids Council (IGAC), now seeks to bridge the gap providing much needed mental and psychological support to PLHIV.

The organisation operates in 23 wards under Insiza Rural District Council.

Their thematic area is child protection, health, education, economic strengthening, sexual reproductive health and rights and case management.

The organisation has support groups of fifteen members, which includes HIV positive orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their caregivers.

The aim is to monitor treatment interruption, viral load and psychological help.

“Our primary target is orphans and vulnerable children in the 0 to 17 years age band and adolescents (AGYW) in the 10 to 24 age band. Secondary Targets are caregivers of targeted children, adolescents and young people, community leaders and community members and institutions like the Government of Zimbabwe, Civil Society Organizations, and other relevant stakeholders.”
IGAC profile reads

The groups are equipped with Internal Savings and Lending (ISALs) skills. In some instances, they will be offered capital to start income generating projects such as poultry farming.

IGAC links the groups with markets where they can sell their goods.

According to the organisation's director, Mpumelelo Moyo, fighting stigma is key in the fight against HIV.

“Through counselling sessions and support groups, where we allow them to share their experiences, they understand that being HIV positive is not the end of the road, they can still live healthy, business driven and academic lives as long as they maintain their ART uptake stability,” Moyo says.

“Our aim is to dispel myths and beliefs of how HIV is contracted, so as to promote peaceful interactions and as well avoid ART interruption.”

Among the beneficiaries is Xaba, who through counselling sessions and financial support, managed to go back to school.

“IGAC health practitioners approached us at home, they investigated my ART take, took me to the clinic for check-ups and also offered vegetables. They educated my aunt on diet management. After that encounter, they frequently checked on me, what I eat, how and when I take ART pills, monitor my viral load and my mental health.”

“I told them that I wish to proceed with my studies in which they were very glad. They paid my fees and bought me stationery.”

Xaba is in Form 3.

“I work hard to change my life very positively and I urge other orphans living with HIV to pick themselves up, pursue their dreams and live a better life,” she adds.

Moyo admits that IGAC faces challenges when dealing with cases under child protection.

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“In rape cases, some villagers prefer to resolve their matters at family level, therefore making it difficult for us to involve the law. We then try by all means to convince them to involve the police so that the child can be protected further, sometimes we win, sometimes it's a struggle,” Moyo reveals.

Through efforts made by IGAC, communities in Insiza and Gwanda now have a better understanding of HIV and how to treat people living with it.

“In our village, we now do things differently, discrimination of people living with HIV is forbidden,” says one Filabusi villager who identified himself as Nkomo.

“We used to believe in false information that when you share things with PLHIV, you risk contracting the disease, but now people live peacefully with them, instead we now assist in reducing ART treatment interruption.”

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