Now this is what we’re here for. Two days in a row now, Methembe, the executive director of GRS Zimbabwe, has come in and put newspaper articles on our desk and asked “how can we contribute?” The Chronicle is a daily newspaper in Bulawayo and the first article covered increased uptake of medical male circumcision (MMC) procedures for the prevention of HIV transmission. Studies have shown that circumcision can reduce the risk of contracting (not spreading) the virus by up to 60%. The Bulawayo Eye Clinic (ah, the irony) is offering the procedure for free at clinics downtown. Although the article focused on MMC, the author exhorted readers to gather information about how to protect themselves from HIV with an emphasis on testing and treatment for children. In Zimbabwe, only 33,000 kids are on anti-retro viral treatment out of an estimated 90,000 who are HIV+. GRS will contribute directly to promoting both MMC and HIV testing for children in Bulawayo through the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing tournaments) we’re starting this year. The Chronicle article pleaded with parents: “Children need to be tested for HIV and AIDS so that precautionary measures are taken. Our child is our posterity and the future needs to be invested in them…more and more medical specialists need to be trained. Families and individuals need to be armed with more information so as to make informed decisions and accurate actions. Governments in Africa must continue to allocate more resources to fund education campaigns on prevention as well as minimizing the spread of the AIDS scourge.” GRS contributes on all the issues I’ve highlighted and it’s invigorating to read a newspaper article published this morning and look back at your proposal to a tournament partner and think, how can we capitalize on this? We plan to target young males with advertising during our VCT tournament, linking them to partners like PSI who offer MMC and pre- and post-procedure counseling. As far as HIV testing for children, the situation is much graver, unfortunately.
Today’s article was entitled, “7,000 Children Die of HIV-related Illness,” and it was inspired by remarks made by Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF’s country representative for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is currently hosting its second annual National HIV and AIDS Conference. Speaking in front of various stakeholders in Harare, Dr. Salama asserted that approximately 7,000 children die each year of HIV-related illness in Zimbabwe, and that most of them have not accessed pediatric anti-retro viral treatment (ARV). 50% of HIV+ children not tested will not reach the age of two. The most appalling information revealed Zimbabwe’s record on pediatric ART: last year, Zimbabwe only provided 30% ART universal access to children – well less than regional average. Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland provided 90, 89, and 70 percent respectively last year. When Mo asked how we can contribute on this one, we started brainstorming ways to market our events to pregnant women and young mothers. The Generation SKILLZ curriculum we’re linking to the VCTs events already deals with the issue of PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission), so girls aged 15-19 will be empowered with the knowledge of where to seek help in the event that they are HIV+ and become pregnant. In many cases HIV services are available, even for free, but it is a matter of reducing stigma around issues of HIV and increasing demand for the services. We’re aiming to do just this during our tournaments and given what we’ve learned over the past few days about the burden on children and mothers of Bulawayo, how could we not be even more motivated to target these most at-risk populations? Thanks for the support!