Hungry and living with HIV/AIDS

Published: 1 December 2015 11:00 CET

By Takemore Mazuruse, Zimbabwe Red Cross Society

At the age of 31, Simbarashe Dube is an average villager from Zakatani in the eastern part of Zimbabwe, but she stands out from the others as a symbol of hope and life in this community where many are affected by HIV.

The proud mother of one has been a Zimbabwe Red Cross Society volunteer for the past five years. She works with her community to encourage positive living so that those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS can find hope and confidence to wake up and face another day.

Her work, like that of many other Red Cross volunteers across the country, involves counselling, health and hygiene promotion, promoting adherence to anti-retroviral therapy as well as home-based care services in some instances. She has lost friends and family to the disease, and now cares for relatives widowed by it. 

“I am a villager like any other. Having borne the brunt of HIV/AIDS, I felt an urge to assist fellow community members affected by the pandemic. I joined the Red Cross as a volunteer and have not looked back,” she says.

The current food insecurity in the area is adding to the struggles faced by those who are HIV-positive. Simbarashe urges hungry people living with HIV to not default on their medication as this might result in treatment failure and drug resistance. “2015 is even worse for people living with HIV and from the time I became a volunteer I can attest that I have never seen such suffering. As you can see, the drought has affected everything, animals included. People living with HIV require enough food for them to adhere to anti-retroviral therapy, but with the current food challenges, some are no longer taking the drugs, given the side effects associated with taking them on an empty stomach. It’s really a sad situation but we are doing the best we can to make life bearable.”

The challenges of taking medication on an empty stomach

Flooding and drought hit farmers hard during the previous agricultural season, leaving many with no or limited harvests. With no reliable sources of income outside of agricultural produce, people living with HIV face increased risk.

“Taking drugs on an empty stomach is risky and some actually collapse because of that. Most of the people living with HIV do not have other sources of income which also affects their children who end up dropping out of school.”

Simbarashe admits she faces her own challenges in this period of food insecurity but, thanks to the training she has received from the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, she remains strong, not just for her child’s sake, but for that of the infected and affected who look up to her.

“This food insecurity is common place and in as much as I have challenges of my own, that doesn’t deter me from playing my part in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Most of the people living with HIV in this community have nothing to supplement their nutrition with and they find it difficult to take the drugs on empty stomachs. But I will never give up as I believe in a better world for all. Regardless of my situation, I strongly believe I can positively inspire the infected and affected.”

On marking 2015 World AIDs Day, Simbarashe yearns for a world which embraces those living with HIV, while at the same time promotes zero new infections, so that HIV and AIDS challenges can be curtailed.

“As we mark World AIDS Day, it is my wish that we spare a thought for the infected and affected, especially in disadvantaged parts of the world like ours. It is my sincere wish that these people can be remembered with food and adequate drugs. Stigma and discrimination should be a thing of the past so that together we can make the world a better place for all. Above all, I would be happy to see people living with HIV being supported with less strenuous income-generating projects which they can run for their own survival and that of their children.”