HomeStandard StyleFishing camps saddled with HIV burden

Fishing camps saddled with HIV burden

When Edmond Katuruza* left his rural home in Gokwe North 13 years ago, little did he know that he will find a new home and start a new life.

social commentary with Moses Mugugunyeki

Fishermen on Lake Kariba
Fishermen on Lake Kariba

Katuruza is among a myriad of fishermen who are living at Musamba Fishing Camp in Nyaminyami, Kariba after they abandoned their families for the camp, which they now call home.

He left a wife and two children in Gokwe North, hoping to return if he made enough money out of his fishing business. This was not to be as Katuruza has chosen to stay put at the camp and is among early inhabitants of this settlement, which is home to 400 families.

Over the years, he has seen his colleagues die from horrific attack by wild animals, drowning and diseases, including HIV and Aids.

“This camp is my second home. I left my home 13 years ago when I came here for fishing and I decided to stay for good,” Katuruza told The Standard Style recently.

“I have seen my friends die, but what worries me most, is that many die of Aids-related diseases. This camp is saddled with a heavy STI [sexually transmitted infection] burden, including HIV.”

Katuruza, who now has a new family, said an influx of traders was a cause for concern because most STIs cases had been recorded at the fishing camp.

Another resident at the camp, Sylivia Mupoto, said the settlement, just like any other fishing camp was a hot spot for STIs. She said it was easier for fishermen to catch Aids than fish.

“A number of people at this fishing camp are living with HIV and are on antiretroviral treatment. The men here guzzle beer after a long day on the lake and satisfied with their catch, they wind up their daily routine in the arms of sex workers,” she said.

“Some of the women traders sleep with men in exchange for fish while others end up cohabitating with the fishermen. This makes the fishermen susceptible to HIV and Aids.”

Faced with lack of jobs, many young men and women have migrated to the fishing camps on the shores of Lake Kariba hoping to cash in on the booming fish business. Men go fishing while women have to settle for sex work or domestic labour.

The Standard Style visited the camp recently and established that over the years there have been no major specific interventions for HIV infection or STIs designed for people living at Chalala and Musamba fishing camps.

“Until recently, relatively little attention had been paid to HIV and Aids at the fishing camps and priorities in humanitarian assistance only included the provision of food, water, sanitation, shelter and basic health services,” said one resident at the camp.

“Factors such as poverty as well as social and economic instability, typically associated with fishing camps exacerbate HIV transmission. There is a very big mobile population and this leads to it having the highest new infections.”

The 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey showed that the HIV prevalence rate in the country declined from 18% to 14% over the past 11 years. HIV prevalence in Kariba is estimated at 7,2% which is lower than the provincial average of 15%.

According to the National Aids Council (NAC), fishing camps, just like mining communities remain hotspots for HIV and Aids.

“Yes, fishing camps are HIV hotspots. A hotspot is a geographical area or location with evidence of high prevalence of HIV, STIs or behaviours that put people at risk for acquiring HIV infection,” Mashonaland West provincial Aids coordinator Davision Mambudzi said.

“Sex workers and fishermen are classified as key populations; hence NAC has come up with STI and condom sensitisation/awareness, campaigns. We conduct dialogues on HIV prevention strategies with sex workers and we also conduct training of peer educators for sex workers and condom distribution.”

Mambudzi said they were facing a plethora of challenges in the response to HIV, especially at fishing camps.

“There is low male circumcision rate in Kariba because it’s against the Tonga culture. As for fishermen, they don’t like to be circumcised because of the nature of their jobs where they spend most of their time in the water,” he said.

Mambudzi said due to cultural practices, people in Kariba shunned circumcision to the extent that Population Services International which was partnering Ministry of Health and Child Care had to pull out of the district. He said the fishermen said healing time for circumcision was too long and would not allow them to go in water to fish.

“It is difficult to disseminate HIV and Aids information in fishing camps because fishermen are not reachable because most of the time they will be in the lake. Women are the only ones at most who are reached by most interventions. The fishermen are a mobile population,” he said.

“In terms of programming, fishermen are in the lake catching fish during the night and during the day they are sleeping, making it difficult for them to be reached by HIV and Aids intervention programmes which in most cases are conducted during the day.

“Some fishing camps are only reachable by boat yet this transport service is expensive. And implementers can’t reach them.”

Mupoto, who is also a focal point person on ending child marriages at the camp, said there had been some changes over the years.

“People are more aware. Everyone knows of HIV and Aids now. People come for condoms and they are getting information but we are never sure they are using condoms,” she said. “We are counselling people and it’s making a difference but it’s still little. There’s so much more to be done.”

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