Sad looking faces are what greet you when you enter the Matero clinic in the capital of Zambia, Lusaka and a feeling of depression hits you with such a powerful force, it is overwhelming.
There are those who are just staring at you with that vacant look that signals no hope. After all, this centre deals with all aspects of HIV and AIDS.
But then suddenly you are hit with another bolt of emotion and this one is hope.
There is just so much happening at the clinic: many persons of varying ages are all waiting for some kind of service and after a brief tour of the clinic you realise how multifaceted it really is and how much hope it offers people in dire need of this.
But those are not the only positives at the clinic. Hope also leaps out at you when you hear melodious Zambian singing and upon investigation are greeted by a group of people laughing and clapping as they belt out a tune.
These men and women, members of the Tikambilane (Let’s Talk), care and support group of HIV positive persons are testimony to the saying, “You can’t know by just looking”. The group is one of many located in Lusaka and other areas which came into existence since 2004 when Zambia started administering ARVs. They are known as community support groups.
Thirty-year-old Carolyn Chibundi, has been living with HIV for a number of years. The curvaceous beauty boldly asked if she looked sick and after singing the response with support from her many friends, declared that she has a virus but is not sick. Her story may not be new but the telling of it and the stories of the members in the group give hope to the many hopeless around the province. Not only do the stories help persons to get tested and know their status but also they help those who test positive to realise that there is life after being tested positive.
In 2004, Chibundi’s life changed after she tested positive, but for the better. Of course there have been some trials and hardships, but whose life hasn’t had those, she asked, smiling.
“In 2004 it was a time for sharing and support and it was through this sharing and support that I learnt of ARVs and today look at me, I am not sick,” she said.
Importantly for Chibundi she is now employed; she did not have a job before she was tested. She has received employment through CIDRZ working in care and support of other positive persons.
Gaining employment could not have come at a more vital time for Chibundi as not only has she an 11-year-old brother to care for, but her younger sister died of an AIDS-related illness earlier this year leaving three children for the young woman to care for. “If I was not working I don’t know what would have happened because they need food and need to go to school,” she said. Chibundi said her friends in the support group are her family, as she has not received the support of her relatives. Her mother died about five years ago.
Group leader Idah Mukuka said most of the members have been trained and they travel around sensitising people.
Mukuka, who is also HIV positive, said they are also placed strategically within the clinic to assist persons who have just found out their positive status or are afraid of being tested. This, she said, means more to the patient than having a nurse or doctor tell them everything will work out. “Having us as evidence of having been there and survived means more to them; it is living examples that tell the story,” she said. “And one of the things we help positive persons with is adherence to taking their drugs.” It is estimated that 920,000 Zambians, 90,000 of whom are children, are living with HIV and AIDS. About 200,000 people in Zambia are experiencing debilitating illness in the advanced stage of the HIV infection.