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Living With HIV/AIDS - A Reflection on the 'Know Your Status' Project in Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia
by Nyambe Kamungoma

I learnt about my HIV status on impulse. It never occurred to me that I could be HIV positive. A close friend of mine had been troubled with a reoccurring STI, so he followed the advice from a health worker that he should consider taking the HIV test. I made a hasty decision to accompany him as support, thinking I was in the clear. That day was a turning point in my life.

I am a married Zambian male of 33 years with two children. My dilemma is not any more different from most of my countrymen in the prime of life. HIV still continues to bury its roots in our dear lives, but it is sad to note that most are still unwilling to undergo voluntary counseling and testing, waiting for the inevitable wasting syndrome.

This was my first encounter face-to-face with the real situation regarding the pandemic in our district, Kapiri Mposhi, a transit town by African standards, very rural with a total area of 45,000km and an estimated population of 270,000.
I was introduced to the local network of people living with HIV. This gave me an opportunity to visit other areas in our district and the country. It saddened me that in an era when treatment was available for HIV, people continued to perish in a silent genocide. Information on HIV was readily available at schools and rural health centers, even in the media. What was the problem?

A realisation came that the real sickness was not the HIV but the attitude. Many persons just did not want to know their status voluntarily. It was ill heath that sent them (for testing.) We all know that the most lethal weapon against AIDS is knowing your status and "maintaining it responsively," whether it's positive or negative. Positive people hold the key to either mitigating or propagating the spread of the pandemic, but the greatest danger is people did not know their classification and continued to rampantly, unknowingly infect others.

I learnt I was not the only one troubled by these thoughts. Many others were thinking as I was on their moral obligation to bring about change. But how?

Thus a movement was born to bring about social change. This is very evident in attitudes and behaviours in people in our district. Our greatest weakness is not being honest with our selves in talking about our behaviours that open us to the dangers of HIV. If we ourselves do not take the bull by its horns, we'll end up trampled.

We started to get people to discuss various issues such as stigma and discrimination, sexual violence, safe sex practices, human rights, alcohol abuse, etc. These talks are replicated in the communities, schools, health centres, bars and other public places, as well as the households. The result has been that we are seeing a normalised attitude and responsiveness towards HIV and a positive way of living having given AIDS a human face.

In the immediate past it was very difficult for people to discuss freely anything related to sexuality. This tradition contributed to the high incidence of HIV transmission. As people engage in HIV-related dialogue more frequently, there is a permanent imprint in their minds to do away with unhelpful traditional beliefs and practices. I personally have been involved in leading some of the talks in helping my peers, and as a role model. [My peers] ask me about change. I can confess that I am the one that has emerged a very different person in terms of attitude, behaviour and resolve. This is true for countless others.

What has been borne is a culture of people starting to become their own watchdogs and demanding facilities and services, [the lack of] which would not have bothered them in the past.

Every year, as we commemorate World AIDS Day, it's important for us to reflect on the hope that has been made into reality for families and the emerging generation through simple talk and openness.

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