Raising an AIDS-free Generation in Rural Zimbabwe
Remarkable news reached me from Nemanwa, a village in southeast Zimbabwe. I had learned that during the previous quarter, none of the HIV-exposed infants in Nemenwa tested positive for HIV.
Nestled below the Great Zimbabwe stone ruins, Nemanwa is an essential destination for travelers searching for clues to Zimbabwe’s past. But I was more interested in signs of my nation’s future.
Taking a closer look at the data, I discovered that during the previous two years, only seven HIV-exposed children in the village — out of 188 tested — were found to be HIV-positive. I knew that something was happening to achieve such remarkable results when most other sites in the surrounding areas were struggling.
As the district focal person for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in Zimbabwe’s southern province of Masvingo, I soon had the opportunity to travel to the Nemamwa clinic and see for myself.
The Village Health Committee Welcomes Me
Upon arriving in Nemamwa, I first sat down with the nurses to update them about EGPAF’s support programs. Suddenly, a smiling man burst into the office. He cheerfully greeted the nurses and welcomed me to the village.
The gentleman is a member of the village health committee set up by village leaders. When visitors come to the clinic, one of the committee members drops by to offer assistance.
I understood immediately — this is why Nemamwa achieves such amazing results. Community leaders make it their business to support the clinic and the health workers.
A Community Health Fund Focuses Resources
This leadership is further evidenced by the establishment of a community fund into which each household contributes 20 cents per month to support a range of health-related activities, such as providing mobile minutes for health workers to follow up with clients.
The funds also pay bus fare for the clinic’s head nurse to accompany HIV-positive clients to Morgenster Hospital, 7 miles away, so that they can begin antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is vital for maintaining health and preventing the transmission of HIV.
In addition, local business people pass through the clinic daily to see if they can transport anything such as dried blood tests to the Masvingo General Hospital 20 miles away or bring back anything, such as drugs or supplies. This keeps the clinic well stocked.
Mentor Mothers and Village Health Workers Educate and Assist
During my visit, I met a mentor mother who lives near the clinic and had stopped by to check in. Mentor mothers are HIV-positive clients of the clinic who have gone through the program for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). As volunteers, they provide health education to other HIV-positive mothers.
In addition to the mentor mothers, the Nemamwa clinic is served by 20 village health workers, 13 community home-based caregivers, and two community HIV/ AIDS support agents. Together, these volunteers hold monthly group meetings with the nurses. They learn about new mother-baby pairs so that they can follow up by with them to make sure that those mothers and their children are getting the treatment that they need.
They also mobilize families for early antenatal care (ANC) appointments and male partner testing. During the past quarter, 95 percent of the male partners who attended one of the 107 ANC appointments were tested with their partners. By comparison, the national average of partner testing during ANC visits is 14 percent.
A Network of Care
We are on the cusp of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV globally. With leaders leading and community members forming a network of care, Nemamwa is well on the way to raising an AIDS-free generation.
EGPAF began supporting Zimbabwe’s national PMTCT program in 2001 at three pilot sites. Today, EGPAF supports 1,453 sites, approximately 93% of Zimbabwe’s health facilities, to scale up programs and accelerate the elimination of pediatric HIV/AIDS — thanks to the support of partners like the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).