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ZAMBIA: Only I Remain

The dawn of the new millennium coincided with the enactment of the national AIDS bill in Parliament. The National Aids Council was established to coordinate the actions of all segments of government and society in the fight against HIV/ AIDS and is in charge of guiding the implementation of the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework (AVERT Zambia).

Within this framework, the council launched the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) program. Though the HIV virus is mostly transmitted through unprotected sexual acts, children who are born from infected mothers are at high risk of getting infected at birth and through breastfeeding, as was the case with my siblings. The project aimed to test all expectant mothers for HIV and put those found positive on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to weaken the virus and prevent the babies from infection during birth. The project proved effective and today every clinic that offers prenatal care has to provide counseling and testing to all expectant mothers.

When the PMTCT program started, most women shunned the services. When I was expecting my first child I saw some women refuse even the counseling services. Such incidences forced the government to introduce mandatory counseling to encourage mothers to undergo testing, although testing still remains voluntary for all expectant mothers.

PMTCT programs today have made headway. According to the UNICEF 2010 HIV/AIDS report, the number of women who have received testing for HIV has jumped from 12% in 2004 to 95% in 2009. These statistics show that women are learning more about the virus and prevention, resulting in reduced mortality rates in Zambia.

In addition, in 2004 late President Levy Mwanawasa introduced free antiretroviral drugs, including pediatric drugs, to prolong the lives of infected children.

Despite the introduction of PMTCT and better access to ARVs, there are still incidences of newborn infections where expectant mothers fail to adhere to treatment during pregnancy.

Despite all the government efforts to combat the HIV virus and protect future generations, the infection rate in Zambia has still remained high, hovering around 14% of a population of 13 million. High levels of poverty where over 65% of people survive on less than a dollar a day, alcohol abuse, and cultural pressures are the major contributors to the high infection rates.

There is much work to be done and many NGOs see women as the agents of healing and change. They have embarked on empowering women financially and academically, and the government aims to ensure 40% representation of women in Parliament to ensure that the voices of women are heard. All these efforts are yet to fully materialize and I look forward to a day when women and children will be truly liberated from the HIV/AIDS scourge.

To honor my late family, I have opted to speak out on the virus. Change begins with me. I am on a personal campaign to encourage women to get tested and to replace ignorance with knowledge; shame with liberty.

About This Story

This article was produced as part of a writing assignment for World Pulse's Voices of Our Future digital empowerment and citizen journalism training program.

Comments

spnrisa.sonnleitner's picture

Sonrisa Sonnleitner

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story- it was really powerful and gave great perspective. Gender inequality that is literally killing women is something that must stop.

tounoye's picture

Very touching! Women need to

Very touching! Women need to be educated so they can know what to do when faced with challenges like this. Thank you.

toun:-)ye

Carrie Lee's picture

Your writing is incredible

Your writing is incredible and you are a change agent! I support you and hold you in all your efforts. Keep going...your voice is powerful and I hear you!!!
Blessings,
Carrie

womenofindia's picture

Courageous Women

This was really very touching, you have done a great job ... This will help many

Wendyiscalm's picture

Current Post

I really appreciate your sensitive story. You write beautifully and I feel your pain.

I have an NGO and am in Livingstone Zambia often. The denial regarding a person having AIDS is incredible. Every 3 months when I go to Livingstone, I hear about someone I knew who died of TB or something but at the base was AIDS. What you say about a woman not having the choice of leaving a man because she does not have financial means is so important and true. Many people do not understand the limited options women in Zambia have. They simply can't always do what they want or know is the right thing to do.

Thank you for your writing.

Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

OgYogg's picture

It's a touching story. I have

It's a touching story. I have been to Zambia few years ago and while I was reading I saw all the images. We have visited Chikankata hopital where there was people at the final stage of their life because of AIDS.

I think to speak out like you do will make people aware, I deeply hope your voice will reach many people and wake them up. Continue your life mission it's beautiful.

Thanks for this writting I support you in all way I can!

Stephanie

Wendyiscalm's picture

Teaching young men also

Hi Chinemu,

I have reread your story with horror and yet appreciation for your courage to speak out. I have just last night come back to Chicago, Illinois after my 3 weeks in Livingstone, Zambia where I work with street orphans and vulnerable children. I return to Zambia the first part of November.

This time I sat down some of my older (age 19-20) year old boys and had an open discussion with them about what THEIR role must be in the change in HIV-AIDS in Zambia. Actually, I think the rate is higher than you stated because it is quite common for someone who died of pneumonia or TB to actually have had AIDS which lowered immune system and then they got another disease which is always what is put on the death certificate.

Anyhow, I know if women refuse sex they are beaten at the least. I know if a man does not want to wear a condom, there is no condom used and the woman can even be sent home to her family in disgrace. So, I am going to make it a point each time I go, to talk to the young men about THEIR responsibility. This time just before I arrived two of them had been far away to a relative's funeral (one it was his brother) and the suffering and need is so great with not enough help sustaining change. BUT that is what I am going to do. I wanted to share this with you. Yes, I hope everyone talks to women in ways to protect themselves but I feel a need and a way to get the young men, who will someday be running the country, to change also.

I started doing this about 2 years ago, when we were watching a movie. A girl was being raped and the boys started laughing. I stopped the movie and said "Now, if that were your mother being raped would you be sitting here laughing?" The whole mood in the room sombered. "No", they all said sadly. And I use every opportunity to compare this for them so that they actually FEEL the situation for what it is.

Keep up the good work.

Your friend in ubuntu,

Wendy Stebbins

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

kotravai's picture

Bold and Coureageous

Hi,

Your courage to speak out is inspiring. It really feels sad while I read the story but your decision to be positive about the reality and work for change is to be appreciated.

I will share this story in my blog. http://masessaynotosexism.wordpress.com/

Kotravai
M.A.S.E.S - Movement Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexism

Wendyiscalm's picture

"People Die in the hospitals"

Your article still needs to be heard loud and clear. I just returned from my trip to Zambia and was stunned to hear a high level female whisper to me "People who go in hospitals die".

I feel at a loss but I hope that you will continue to write so beautifully and accurately so that we become and stay aware.

Again thank you for trying and writing in your compassionate way.

Ubuntu ( I am who I am because of who we are togehter),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

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