Doomed were it not USAID support in my HIV fight, says activist

LITTLE is known about Lucy Michael in Iringa Region or precisely in the Southern Zone unless you are referring to an activist fighting HIV/AIDS and climbing podiums with a message to the public-that disclosing HIV serostatus is important in the disease prevention.

In her strong message that being HIV positive is not a ticket to death assures people living with the ailment that with close U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) strategies to save lives, prevent new HIV infections, hopes are high right into the grassroots that they stand another chance to live.

Lucy, 22, says that were it not the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) coming to their rescue in fighting the scourge, her 12 years living with the disease would not have worked.

The issue of optimistic infections particularly skin issues, were the driving forces for her medical attention. Lucy did not accept the results when she was tested for the first time, saying: “At first, due to low knowledge, I did not accept myself and built my own self-stigma by segregating myself from my friends and family.

I remember I shared my sad story to my close friend and one day we went into conflict and she decided to reveal my story to all students…this made me to have very tough life at school and unhappy due to stigma, which happened after my fellow students knowing my status.”

Narrating her ordeal of living with the ailment in the community and especially in school, she drew attention of the public that even some teachers in the school were telling her fellow students to isolate her.

Saying how fighting stigma was not an easy task during the PEFPAR 20 years’ work celebrations in the Southern Zone marked in Iringa recently, she added: “Guys, talking openly about HIV can help normalise the subject. It also provides opportunities to correct misconceptions and help others learn more about HIV.”

Currently, promoting positive behaviour amongst the youth in fighting the scourge and with several approaches pushed by different implementers like Kizazi Hodari Southern Zone (KHSZ) project (March 2022 to February 2026) funded by the American People through USAID aimed at supporting the government through the Ministry of Health to achieve HIV epidemic control by improving the health, wellbeing, and protection of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) and youth in high HIV burden communities within the Southern Zones of Tanzania specifically Iringa, Njombe and Ruvuma regions, Lucy’s case as a woman living with the virus empowers others to confront their own challenges with strength and optimism.

Tanzania has made great progresses in improving the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV, not only on the side of providing them with antiretroviral therapy-treatment of HIV/ AIDS, especially its related opportunistic infections and prophylaxis, but also supporting them in economic activities to sustain their incomes.

Equally, take the case where adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are 5 to 14 times more likely to be infected with HIV than their male peers. It means there are many factors, which make girls and young women particularly to be vulnerable to HIV, including gender-based violence, exclusion from economic opportunities and a lack of access to secondary school.

That is why the PEPFAR dedicating significant resources also through the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) partnership to impact the lives of women and girls based on its mission is welcome in the country.

Here, the project undertaken by Deloitte Consulting Limited in collaboration with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other key stakeholders strengthen linkages between health facilities and the community, build local capacity and deliver contextually relevant interventions in the country’s race to register zero new infection, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2026 against the global target of achieving the three zeros by 2030.

Reinforced by capacity development and technical assistance, it seems in a nutshell that local ownership of the HIV/AIDS fight is promising in the country, especially the performance of the USAID’s local implementers sharing skills right into the grassroots.

To help combat that, Americans through USAID initiated the project to address the issue by providing structured services to 141,335 People Living With HIV (PLHIV), which includes caregivers and children. Among them, 10,248 girls and 5,708 boys aged 0–14 have been receiving specific prevention services, such as Determined, Resilient, Empowered AIDS Free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) and Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM).

The programme intends to increase access to and use of health/HIV, social and protection services among OVC and youth in order to contribute to 95-95-95 goals: 95 per cent of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) know their HIV status; 95 per cent of PLHIV who know their status are on treatment; and 95 per cent of PLHIV on treatment are virally suppressed, by 2030.

Additionally, 97,502 children will receive HIV risk assessments to determine their status and receive tailored interventions using the national case management approach. This is particularly important for children with ill caregivers or those orphaned due to HIV/AIDS because they face a higher risk of transitioning from being affected by HIV to becoming infected, along with other social, emotional and health-related challenges.

This is unquestionably an example of the kind of inspirational ideas Martin Luther was urging; if you keep pushing forward with whatever you have, the rest would take care of itself. With over 28.4m/- US Dollar budget the KHSZ has a vision to deliver a highquality service for OVC, and their caregivers, here its mission is to improve the health, wellbeing and protection of OVC and youths in HIY high-burden communities within the Southern Zone of Tanzania.

KHSZ activity also provides technical, material assistance and/or administrative and management support to the government through the Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Community Development, Gender, Women and Special Groups (MCDGWSG), President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government (PORALG) and communities to increase their capacity to manage, refine and develop the OVC service packages and support, thereby contributing to OVC Activity’s role in advancing HIV epidemic control.

In the recent US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) Iringa Media Tour by journalists, it was noticeable that the objective including to increase the use of OVC platforms for paediatric HIV case finding, linkage to treatment, and viral suppression (OVC comprehensive) if sustained and implemented with the same spirit will make the country contribute a lot in fighting the disease in its vision and goal.

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