World AIDS Day 2011: Views from Africa and Eurasia
HIV/AIDS is a global pandemic that brings with it local challenges as well as local solutions. In observation of World AIDS Day, IREX is pleased to share some insights into the complex issues that surround the disease across the globe by giving voice to some of those individuals working in this field.
Dilnora Azimova from Uzbekistan, Francis Mpagi from Uganda, and Chamunorwa Mashoko from Zimbabwe are Community Solutions Program Leaders, spending four months in the U.S. in order to strengthen their experience and skills in HIV/AIDS interventions. Here are their thoughts for World AIDs Day 2011.
What motivates you to work in the area of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention?
Dilnora: My passion for learning and sharing new knowledge and working with the youth on social issues that interest and affect them as well as my vision for a healthy and truly multifaceted young generation in Uzbekistan motivates me to work in the area of HIV/AIDS.
Francis: Rakai, Uganda, my birthplace, is where the first HIV/AIDS cases were identified. As a child I saw the real effects of HIV as I attended many burials in my community including for my five siblings. This affected me psychologically and motivated me to get into HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness campaigns with a purpose of trying to make a difference for my people.
Chamunorwa: I am motivated by hope. I am hopeful that we are close to eradicate the epidemic. HIV and AIDS is a reality in Zimbabwe and I have witnessed the deaths of close relatives and friends. I consider myself to be alive for a reason…helping others reduce the risk of HIV infection.
The slogan for World AIDS Day 2011 is “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.” Why is the message of “getting to zero” important in your country and how do you see your country reaching this goal?
Dilnora: The Uzbek government has established a legal framework for reversing the HIV epidemic, integrated HIV literacy into the educational curricula, launched anti-retroviral therapy programs and founded centers to provide youth-friendly health services. The government should promote awareness-raising interventions that raise the HIV literacy of people. The nation with higher HIV literacy is more likely to protect its own health.
Francis: The message of getting to zero is not only desirable but is necessary and long overdue. It is close to thirty years of AIDS in Uganda, but the status and trends of the epidemic remain. World AIDS Day is a great opportunity to re-engage leaders to commit themselves to achieve universal access to HIV prevention and treatment because there is evidence that where effective leadership is exercised, significant results are realized.
Chamunorwa: This is important to Zimbabwe because to date there are 1.2 million people living with HIV. Discrimination complicates lives of people living with HIV, [and] it can lead to people failing to disclose their status, infecting others and even failing to access treatment. We need to treat HIV as a family and community health issue [more so] than [just] an individual problem..this reduces stigma and discrimination, increases male involvement in HIV programming and calls for revision of the country’s HIV Policy.
What are the challenges in “getting to zero” in your country and what are some new approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention and outreach that you think can help you “get to zero”?
Dilnora: There are thousands of people worldwide who do not know their HIV status and continue infecting other people. Uzbekistan faces major challenges in raising HIV literacy of the public who perceive the HIV infection as affecting injecting drug users [only] and thus avoid evaluating their own risk. Altering the public perception, raising their HIV awareness and dispelling myths about the infection demand culturally-competent interventions that address safer sex conversations in small groups, communities and nationwide.
Francis: Criminalizing issues related to HIV infection and spread makes people avoid testing and causes stigma. If Uganda is to get to zero new HIV infection and zero discrimination there is need to amend the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill. Also there are gaps in the legal framework which have effects on HIV/AIDS prevention. [F]or example, Uganda’s penal law, endorses discrimination by making sexual intercourse between consenting adults of the same sex a crime and punishable by maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Chamunorwa: Zimbabwe is currently facing economic challenges and priorities are numerous hence we fail to adequately address HIV issues. Lack of skilled manpower in the health sector due to a massive brain drain experienced over the past ten years [exacerbate the situation]. Getting to zero is possible but it will take time and the need is great.