Batanai support groups

   Batanai Support Group
Photo by Nigel Sanders-Self

The Batanai support groups in Chitungwiza are the nidus of a new form of social organization in Zimbabwe, people u nited around a common problem of a disease and the toll it is taking on their families and community. The support groups began as a response to voluntary testing and counseling and prevention of mother to child transmission. Pregnant women were offered testing and counseling and those who were positive (at this point more than 30%) were further offered Zidovudine or Nevirapine to increase their chances of having a healthy baby.  As the pace of VCT increases and intervention in MTCT is increased, there will be thousands of parents who learn of their HIV status.

Taking an HIV test in sub-Saharan Africa today is an act of courage. There is still considerable stigma associated with being HIV positive, the denial of medical and social services as well as the support of the extended family is a very real threat. Yet these women and some of their husbands were able to overcome these barriers and test, taking the initiative against the disease that is wreaking havoc in their community. They are providing an example of positive community response and action against AIDS.

Now organized as support groups, led by counselors from the Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention Project and affiliated with the Zimbabwe National Program of seropositive people (ZNP+), the Batanai men and women are asking how they can contribute to AIDS education, prevention, care and treatment in their community. To this end they have received support from the National AIDS Council, developed a series of income generating projects, and initiated community education and awareness programs in Chitungwiza.

Photo by Nigel Sanders-Self

As Stanford and the University of Zimbabwe, through the Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention Project (ZAPP),  develops a medical response to HIV, the Batanai support groups are key partners in the implementation of interventions and care.  The involvement and participation of those infected and affected by the disease in clinical care and clinical trials have been a key element in the successful fight against AIDS in the developed world. The HIV infected individuals who have banned together to fight the disease in their community are an important resource as well as an extraordinary group of men, women and children fighting for their lives.

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