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Tsholotsho’s flood victims face HIV crisis - Zimbabwe Today
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Some of the evacuated villagers disembark a helicopter at Sipepa High School grounds in Tsholotsho yesterday. Pic by Fortune Muzarabani.

Tsholotsho’s flood victims face HIV crisis

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Evacuated families arrive at a temporary camp in Sipepa, Tsholotsho

Evacuated families arrive at a temporary camp in Sipepa, Tsholotsho

Pamela Shumba
IT is more than a month since about 800 Tsholotsho villagers were evacuated to a temporary camp at Sipepa Hospital following the heavy rains that pounded the country, leaving most people homeless as a result of flooding.

The Government which declared the tropical storm-induced floods a state of disaster following the death of 246 people and the displacement of 1 985, has since appealed to local and international donors to assist in mobilising about $200 million to address the effects of the floods.

The swift response by the Air Force of Zimbabwe in evacuating the villagers saved lives in Tsholotsho but the Government remains with a mammoth task of mobilising more than $3,5 million required to relocate 298 families.

The relocation of the families to higher ground is the only permanent solution as these families have over the years been affected by floods each time the country receives above normal rainfall.

Tsholotsho North MP Professor Jonathan Moyo recently said the flood victims might stay at the camp for six months as the Government needs time to mobilise resources to build new homes, a clinic and a school for them in Saudweni and Tshino villages.

While they wait for this intervention, the flood victims, most of them women and children need functioning health care services, sanitation facilities, safe drinking water and food.

There are fears of outbreak of diseases as well as increased defaulter rate for those living with HIV and Aids, re-infection and new infections, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The National Aids Council (NAC) has partnered with its stakeholders in Tsholotsho to closely monitor the flood victims and make sure HIV and Aids is mainstreamed in the displaced community.

According to the Zimbabwe Population Based Impact Assessment (Zimphia) 2015-2016, Matabeleland North province has the second highest prevalence of HIV among adults aged 15 to 64 with 20,1 percent after Matabeleland South province which has 22,3 percent.

Tsholotsho District HIV prevalence stands at 17 percent, well above the national prevalence of 14,6 percent.

These statistics show that the burden of HIV in the province remains high and calls for concerted efforts in tackling this pandemic that might worsen as a result of the floods.

NAC organised an advocacy meeting for heads of departments in Bulawayo recently, where Minister of State for Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs Cde Cain Mathema said this was the time when communities, particularly women and adolescent girls become vulnerable to sexual abuse and this would happen without protection.

He said HIV and Aids prevention among the flood victims in Tsholotsho should be treated as an emergency by all partners involved in community development.

“We need to prioritise HIV mainstreaming in displaced communities and Tsholotsho should not be forgotten. I call upon all stakeholders to mobilise adequate resources and services for Tsholotsho flood victims.

“The flood victims should come out of the camp richer, not only with knowledge of skills to prevent HIV but with life skills that will make them better members of the community. Let’s go out there in a co-ordinated fashion to mainstream HIV and Aids to the victims of flooding in Tsholotsho and let’s not leave anyone behind. We need to employ all the prevention strategies available,” said Minister Mathema.

He said it is not only the loss of homes and their belongings that affects displaced communities but the social safety nets and the health services provision that get disrupted.

“Many a times when we talk about disaster situations we forget to talk about HIV and Aids. This is a time and period when women and girls have no access to protection like condoms, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (Prep) and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). I’m happy that NAC has taken the initiative to remind us about the risks that the flood victims face at the camp.

“When I see a number of those young adolescent girls at the camp that are not going to school, I’m immediately reminded of such risks including unwanted pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases,” said Minister Mathema.

Matabeleland North provincial administrator Ms Latiso Dlamini emphasised the need for health practitioners to educate patients on the type of medication that they are taking.

“Among the flood victims are patients on treatment for diabetes, TB, HIV and Aids, high blood pressure among other diseases.

“Most of them lost their medication and hospital health cards to the floods. Some of them didn’t know the names of the tablets they’re taking and it created a lot of problems for the nurses.

“While we appreciate that the drug names are difficult to pronounce, it’s important for the nurses to help the patients know what type of drugs they’re on. This will make it easy for both the patients and health workers in such situations. It also prevents the patients from sharing drugs,” said Ms Dlamini.

Mr Tserebe Maphosa, an official in the Ministry of Health and Child Care said prevention messages must be re-emphasised to avoid new infections and further transmission among those living with HIV.

“The focus for HIV practitioners should be on improving treatment access and supporting adherence and retention for all patients. No one should be denied care and appropriate support.

“We should prioritise the welfare of our patients and thereby ensure that all who need treatment receive it, regardless of their mobility history,” said Mr Maphosa.

He said there was also a need for advocating for non-discriminatory medical practices at the camp.

“We have to play an active role in reducing and censuring discriminatory attitudes and dispelling myths regarding crisis affected persons.

“While it’s important to concentrate on HIV prevention, we should also consider and provide appropriate prevention advice on malaria, typhoid, viral hepatitis, cholera, measles and other diseases that are common in displaced populations and can affect people living with HIV,” said Mr Maphosa.

NAC Matabeleland North provincial Aids co-ordinator Mr Dingaan Ncube also emphasised the need for comprehensive mainstreaming strategies alongside guidelines to facilitate and support HIV programming in the Tsholotsho community.

Mr Ncube said the challenges they face in HIV mainstreaming include lack of leadership commitment to mainstream HIV, limited resources, fragmented co-ordination and lack of an organised approach to HIV mainstreaming.

He called  for a strong co-ordination and commitment by community leaders in the fight against HIV.

“This is part of disaster management and it’s important. It is important to appreciate that without full commitment from leaders in relief provision, mainstreaming of HIV will remain weak.

“We also need to involve other sectors outside relief providers in mainstreaming HIV. The fight involves empowering women and girls with skills to negotiate for safer sex,” said Mr Ncube.

Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) sister-in-charge in Tsholotsho Ms Sithembinkosi Gumbo said a health disaster is inevitable if issues of reproductive health are not addressed among displaced people.

“While providing basic needs such as shelter and food are important for displaced populations, sexual reproductive programming for all age groups should also be a priority.

“Displacement of communities results in serious disruption of societal structures and norms and in such situations, due to idleness and increased sexual interaction with new people, there is risk of commercial sex work, sexual violence or coercive sex and economic vulnerability of women (sex for commodities). Sexual reproductive health is therefore important,” said Ms Gumbo.

Matabeleland provincial head in the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Mr Buthumuzi Ngwenya said in emergency situations, youth programming is essential in promoting the livelihoods of vulnerable youth.

“Against the given background, youth programming should focus on improving livelihoods to enable the youths to absorb shocks and cope with challenges in emergency situations.

“Youth focused programming is paramount as there is usually an increase in risky behaviour due to a shift in social and cultural patterns among other things. The youths also need to be involved in conflict management, peace building and reconciliation through the National Youth Service and other youth serving organisations,” said Mr Ngwenya.

He said the Government should capacitate youths through vocational skills development courses including building, brick moulding, carpentry and thatching so that they can have income generating projects.

“This will go a long way in reducing unemployment, which usually results in high levels of crime, civil unrest, early marriages, increase in HIV and STI cases,” said Mr Ngwenya.

As the country takes a leading role in the global HIV prevention agenda following its successful HIV programming to defeat the pandemic, which emphasises more on prevention, among other strategies, it is the hope of the leadership in Tsholotsho that the district will be part of the country’s success story.


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