The National Aids Council (NAC) held an HIV and Aids sensitisation workshop for newly-elected members of parliament and senators recently as part of its advocacy strategy. The group was specifically targeted so that as members of parliament and senators, they can come up with policies from an informed position.
By Tadiwa Nyatanga-Pfupa
The workshop was held in order to bring to the attention of relevant legislators, key issues pertaining to HIV, TB, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cancer and other non-communicable diseases. NAC also took the opportunity to provide information that will enable legislators to meaningfully debate on these issues.
Topical during this meeting was the issue of self-testing for HIV. A number of participants tested themselves during the workshop, courtesy of AHF, one of NAC’s strategic partners who supplied the self-test kits. Knowing one’s status is in line with the 2018 to 2019 World Aids campaign theme, Know Your Status. #My Status #My Health #My Life. The first 90 in 90 by 90 by 90 global targets towards ending Aids calls for 90% of people living with HIV to know their status.
In her speech, President of the Senate, Mable Chinomona highlighted that legislators were a very strategic stakeholder in the response to HIV and AIDS.
“Legislators play a very significant role in the development of a nation through promulgation of relevant laws that facilitate development,” she said.
She proceeded to encourage participants to lead from the front.
“Having been elected representatives of the people, we are perhaps the most visible people in our constituencies, with potential to command respect. I therefore, want to appeal to the parliamentarians here to utilise our potential and opportunity to promote positive sexual behaviour change among the people in our communities,” she added.
Chinomona applauded NAC for continuing to engage members of parliament and the senate in the response to HIV.
NAC CEO Tapuwa Magure underscored the importance of this meeting.
“The form and character of our response to HIV and Aids have been shaped to a larger extent by the policies and legislation promulgated by our parliamentarians,” he said.
“Our Aids levy and the establishment of the NAC itself, including a raft of other subsidiary legislation have been made possible through the commitment of the lawmakers.”
He pleaded with the law-makers to closely look at how parliament and senate can support raising of additional domestic resources to support the response to HIV.
One of the participants Lynette Karenyi said she had learnt a lot during the meeting. She bemoaned the existence of stigma on the basis of one’s HIV status that is still existing in Zimbabwe.
Karenyi said that this is an impediment in the overall response to HIV as people would rather not know or disclose their status for fear of being stigmatised.
Perseverance Zhou said NAC has been doing great work from village and ward levels and she has gotten a lot of insight from programmes implemented in her area.
She said that she employs 45 people and she personally went with them for voluntary HIV-testing and counselling. From her workforce, 12 tested HIV-positive and she grants them time off to collect medicine.
“Absenteeism was frequent before people got to know their status and started on treatment,” she said.
“It negatively affected my productivity as a number of people would fall sick and fail to come to work.
“As people responded to treatment and got lessons on positive living, I have not experienced cases of absenteeism due to ill health in a long time.”
Chairperson of the thematic committee on HIV and Aids, Morgan Femayi was particularly touched by the fact that NAC has limited access to foreign currency and this is making it impossible for the organisation to procure adequate anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs).
“What makes NAC’s case unique is that NAC is not begging for money, it already has the Aids levy. All we need to do is to agree and facilitate that NAC gets adequate foreign currency to meet its treatment needs”, he said.
Femai said it will be catastrophic to fail to supply ARVs to people who are currently living healthy positive lives.
NAC has been engaging members of parliament and senate on a regular basis through meetings and tours. This has seen various motions with a bearing on the response to HIV being moved and ultimately becoming laws.