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Notes from Kakoma

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BY FOSTER BENJAMIN:

CHIMBIZGANI-KACHULU—We are on course to combating HIV/ Aids

On a bare, dusty Kakoma Primary School ground in Chikwawa West, eight elderly women take to dancing platform. They shake as if they have no bones, clapping hands to rhythmic beats as they get lost in chiponda traditional dance.

Of course, the gogos clap out rhythmic notes: notes from Kakoma.

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They sing with a meditative composure:

Odwala edzi tisamusale/

Odwala edzi tidye naye limodzi/

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Timwe naye limodzi.

The songs sound like a close cousin to poems to the untrained ear.

One after another, the elderly dancers take turns, gyrating in their chitenje wrappers.

One message is unmistakable in their chanting: a plea not to discriminate those suffering from the Aids scourge but “to eat with them, drink with them and even laugh with them since we’re one”.

“What we sing about are things we see in the village,” says Margaret Odillo, a woman who is commonly believed to be in her 80s.

“Come to the village and you’ll see for yourself how people who are [HIV]-positive are being discriminated. Even their own relatives ill-treat them,” she adds.

Patusia Gateni, another dancer from Chimphepo Village, shares her concerns. She is worried that losing the young generation to Aids is akin to suffocating the air out of the future of the country.

“Who will take over from us when we are gone?” She asks. “Our days are numbered and we rely on the young ones to wheel this country through.”

But the usual refrain is an appeal not to discriminate those who are HIV positive.

Gateni, who seems to be Odillo’s age mate, minces no words: “Like what my friend said, those who are suffering from Aids-related illnesses shouldn’t be isolated. Some didn’t choose to catch the virus.”

Truly, people who have HIV still face stigma. Tellingly, they are subjected to ridicule, despite many calls not to condemn them.

But the worst part is that some chiefs are pointing accusing fingers at the victims, says Simeon Chamera, the man who claims to have HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

“I feel pity that some chiefs lead the onslaught accusing us of being reckless, sometimes disclosing our (sero) status.

“The truth is that they don’t know what tomorrow brings and, who knows, they might contract the virus,” laments Chamera, claiming he has been living with the virus for a decade.

However, there are still HIV-positive people who do not wish to be put on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, according to Chamera.

For them, it is “a ticking time bomb”.

“Some of you are not taking ARVs. Just know that, next year, we’ll be holding this candlelight memorial for you. Today we’re remembering those who died of Aids. Next year, believe me, we’ll remember you,” he challenges others.

In Chikwawa District, strides have been made in the fight against Aids, boasts Phoster Chimbizgani-Kachulu, principal nutrition and HIV/Aids officer in the district.

He claims that 75 percent of HIV-positive people are taking ARVs consistently. Ninety-five percent of children, whose mothers tested positive to the virus, have been prevented from catching the virus.

“We’re on course to combating HIV/ Aids though there are some hiccups. We’re still having some defaulters out there. Some of them claim to rely on prayers to get healed,” he explains.

SYMBOL OF HOPE— Dossi lights up the memorial candle

In the face of such claims, Susan Dossi, legislator for Chikwawa West Constiency, bares her chest out: “Prayers alone don’t heal HIV/Aids. Don’t be deceived by religious men who claim they can cure you of Aids. They will only waste your time until you eventually die; turn to hospitals for life-prolonging drugs,” says Dossi, the guest of honour at the candlelight memorial event.

“Mind you, you must not abandon condom use. Use them to reduce the further risk of spreading the virus. And don’t say condoms are in short supply. Condoms are everywhere these days.”

True, condoms are spilling out into the rural communities of the Shire Valley district.

Aids Healthcare Foundation, a global health body providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy, is targeting the rural community in dishing out new brands of condoms dubbed Love and Icon. Over 10,000 condoms have been distributed, according to Jacob Pidin, AHF prevention officer.

Pidin believes that rural areas, such as Ngabu, have lagged behind in condom supply. There has been a shortfall of condoms in hard-to-reach areas; hence, AHF is “determined to fill the widening gap”.

That aside, Odillo and Gateni— the two elderly traditional dancers— clap out their point home: never discriminate HIV-positive people.

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