Accept me as I am – Zvandiri
Although the HIV/AIDS situation in Africa has improved in recent years, medication can still be difficult to obtain, and those affected continue to struggle against stigmatisation and social exclusion. This particularly impacts young people. The SDC supports a programme in Zimbabwe in which young people help their peers to cope with the disease and combat stigmatisation.
A young man holds up a yellow poster that reads: «We want to defeat HIV by 2030.» © SDC
To mark World AIDS Day 2023, the international community is calling for greater support for communities affected by HIV/AIDS. Those affected are leading the battle against the disease, advocating for a world where individuals living with HIV/AIDS can thrive without the burden of stigma or exclusion. A programme in Zimbabwe shows how a collaborative and inclusive approach works, and sets an example against exclusion and stigmatisation.
More than «just» a disease
Approximately 1.2 million people in Zimbabwe live with HIV/AIDS, 16% of whom are under 24. As in many parts of the world, HIV/AIDS-positive individuals in Zimbabwe face stigmatisation, which has a profound impact on their lives and efforts to curb the epidemic. HIV/AIDS is often associated with negative stereotypes based on ignorance and prejudice.
One of the main causes of stigmatisation in Zimbabwe is the lack of education about the disease. Widespread misconceptions persist about the transmission and management of the disease. These misunderstandings have grave implications. Individuals infected with the virus often face ostracisation from their communities, leading to job loss and withdrawal of social support. This social isolation and the resultant psychological stress further deteriorate the health of those affected. The fear of such social ostracisation discourages people from seeking testing, and those diagnosed with the virus are often hesitant to pursue treatment. This results in significant under-diagnosis and under-treatment of HIV/AIDS.
In addition to expanding healthcare services and infrastructure, there is a need for increased education and reintegration of affected individuals into social life. The medication that is now available significantly improves the life expectancy and quality of life of those affected. This makes it all the more important to improve access to medication and services, and to lower barriers stemming from fear of social exclusion.
The SDC supports broad-based and effective awareness-raising projects to combat HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. These projects play a vital role in raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and promoting prevention and treatment measures in the country. One of these is the Zvandiri programme.
The Zvandiri programme was founded in 2004 when 13-year-old Simbisai wrote a letter asking for a safe space where children and young people living with HIV could connect, support and learn from each other. The first support group was formed under the leadership of six young people from Harare, Zimbabwe. Amanda, 14, named the group «Zvandiri», which means «as I am».
These young people were coming to terms with their HIV status and understanding its implications for them. At that time, HIV testing, treatment and care for children and young people were just beginning to emerge, but they wanted more than just medication and visits to the clinic. They were seeking happiness, confidence and self-acceptance. Since 2004, young people have been integral to the development, implementation and evaluation of Zvandiri's programmes and innovations.
An efficient and innovative model
Zvandiri offers an efficient and innovative model, providing holistic care through health services, social work, protection services, psychosocial support, capacity-building programmes and advocacy initiatives. Adolescents and young people living with HIV/AIDS lead the planning and implementation of services for their peers who are similarly affected.
They collaborate with government health services and clinic staff, encouraging others to get tested to identify those infected. Community adolescent treatment supporters (CATS) guide those who test positive on how to access medication, when and how to take it, and when to visit a clinic to have their viral load measured. The programme also targets teachers and schools to educate them about the HIV virus and raise young people's awareness of sexual and reproductive health. The Zvandiri programme is now considered an extremely efficient, relevant, innovative and sustainable model in Zimbabwe and beyond.
The realisation that you are not alone
Through Zvandiri, young people with HIV/AIDS connect with each other, for example at therapy group sessions. This is a crucial aspect, particularly for their mental health. It gives them a sense that they are not alone. They feel understood by others and learn from each other's experiences.
Zvandiri aims to stimulate public debate on HIV/AIDS and give young people a voice. Music also plays an important role in this. People dance and sing at meetings. Music helps the young people to unite and give them a voice.
Additional SDC initiatives
Switzerland is actively involved in global efforts to contain HIV/AIDS by supporting international organisations such as the WHO, UNAIDS, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, as well as international and regional NGOs, associations and networks. In its country programmes, Switzerland emphasises prevention, particularly in the context of sexual and reproductive health programmes, and on improving access to non-discriminatory treatment, care and support. In regions heavily impacted by HIV, programmes beyond the healthcare sector also take into account factors such as the roles of individuals living with HIV and the effects on these groups, as well as the reciprocal impact these groups have on the HIV situation.