WORLD AIDS DAY

While the international community is being threatened by terrorism and economic meltdown, HIV and AIDS is threatening Zambia like never before.  Families and communities are crumbling at an alarming rate and government resources are being stretched to breaking point. In light of this, we need to address HIV and AIDS more aggressively and more responsibly we currently do.  For example, on the eve of World AIDS Day, Mrs. Mataka, the Executive Director of Zambian National AIDS Network was quoted in The Post that “Over 98,000 people are currently on antiretroviral drugs.”  On the same date, the Times of Zambia quoted President Banda, “The Government has since 2008 placed an additional 300,000 people, among them 23,000 children on anti-retroviral treatment…”.  Five days have passed since the papers were published and neither party has made clear which statement is correct.  One wonders how serious we are in the fight against HIV and AIDS when our leaders can disseminate figures with such huge discrepancies.

The power to set this country on the right track against HIV and AIDS begins with leaders.  Leaders must look us straight in the face and speak clearly, passionately, and empathetically about the effects of HIV and AIDS on health care delivery, education, industry, and communities.  We need leaders to help us see the connection between HIV and AIDS to poverty, as families take on the responsibility for orphans from their extended family.  Leaders must make it clear, that while the economy has been rapidly expanding, the benefits of expansion will not reach the people so long as resources gained are diverted to fight the pandemic. And finally, we must communicate in basic language that helps those affected to personally connect with the practical impact HIV and AIDS is having on their lives and in their communities.

Government, church, and civil society leaders must quickly come together and start mapping out a strategy that will address the social and cultural hindrances to the fight.  We need to see government and church leaders take more ownership of the vision for a healthy Zambia, and subsequently their engagement with the people, enlisting them in the fight. We must put a brochure in every Zambian household that asks the questions: What can I do? Where do I start? How can I turn my life, my family and my community around? Our people have the solutions.  What they need is for leaders to encourage and affirm them as they seek to participate in the process.

 

Lastly, we need to provide more platforms for inspiring stories of Zambians who are fighting the hardships of HIV and AIDS and experiencing victory.  Testimonies of resilient people living with HIV and AIDS who have overcome poverty, stigma, and discrimination need to become part of our collective history as an encouragement to all of us engaged in the battle.  National television and radio can play a major role in developing this platform; placement of these programs during “prime” times will be essential for maximum benefit.  People living with and affected by HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) must be part of the everyday fight and we must reverse the trend of parading them around for World AIDS Day while we don’t invite them to participate in policy formation, awareness, and programs where they are uniquely equipped to lend advice.  When the most interested parties (PLWHA’s) are not central to our solutions, stigma increases and dignity decreases.  Finally, we must remove advertisements that glamorize a culture of multiple partners and replace them with innovative advertisements that envision Zambia free of HIV and AIDS. Isaiah gives us a picture of that vision, “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years, he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth.”

Did you encourage men and women in your church who are struggling in this area? I pray that your church be visible in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Lawrence Temfwe