Community Development Health

Unsung community heroines at the centre of COVID-19 response

Kumbirai Mahaso, an anti HIV activist with BHASO

Community-based organisations and individuals living among the public played a critical role in ameliorating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this installment, Spiked Online Media casts a spotlight on these champions.

Kumbirai Mahaso, an activist in the HIV sector

She carries the Batanai HIV Aids Support Organisation, (BHASO)  legacy. Born in Masvingo, Mahaso is the daughter of the legend, Auxilia Chimusoro who fought stigma head-on in the 1990s and died in 1998 before the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Mahaso did not let her mom’s work perish. She took over the running of BHASO. Being the pilot of Community Art Refills, (CARGS) the initiative paid off during Covid-19. Travelling was restricted with only those seeking treatment able to do so.

The CARGS project started by BHASO in Gutu in 2010, with the support of MSF, roared as the intent spread. Under CARGS, one person living with HIV collects cards and goes to the health centres to collect them on behalf of the members. This saves on bus fare, and congestion at the hospital and acts as a support group.

“I am glad that our initiative became a bridge to resupply challenges nationally. Even families with more than two people now form a FARG and one person collects. It saves money,” said Mahaso.

Lydia Chanaiwa, a young mother from Chitungwiza

A video of a three-year-old boy shedding tears, asking his father not to go outside the gate went viral in 2020.

“Daddy, musaende kunze kwegedhi, kune Covid-19, (Dad, don’t go outside the gate, there is Covid-19),” said the weeping boy, scared his dad will get infected and die). The clip was a hit on social media. The boy is Lydia Chanaiwa’s son.

Lydia Chanaiwa, a community health worker from Chitungwiza

The boy shows his appreciation of social distancing and cries when the father is leaving home. Chanaiwa is a community champion. She volunteers at her local clinic in Zengeza, Chitungwiza.

During the pandemic, as a frontline worker, she provided education on the risk factors. She distributed masks and when available, sanitisers. She talked to young mothers to get tested for HIV and Covid-19.

“Going out to work every day was not easy. God’s favour located me. Several staff members at our clinic fell ill. We lost one. I wasn’t clever to remain uninfected. We all observed the measures. It was grace that saved me,” said the community educator.

 

Murena Masanzu, a community leader openly living with HIV

“Having survived tuberculosis,  (TB), and HIV, Covid-19 shook me to the bone. Stigma reared its ugly head. I keep chickens and the moment I said I had Covid-19, the community avoided me like a leper a century ago,” said Masanzu, addressing the Health Communicators’ Forum (HCF) virtually, speaking as a survivor.

Morena Masanzu

Masanzu, who is the Vice Chairman of the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV, (ZNNP+) got resilience from being a community leader.

Having faced the stigma of being HIV, the replay was not new. She had to speak out, and educate the media on the choking effects of stigma.

“Stigma kills. I am not surprised that some people could have died from stigma than from the Covid-19 infection itself. The community stopped buying my chickens. I notified a friend in Harare. She drove all the way from Harare to Bindura. She purchased all my chickens. My children could not buy even tomatoes or bread from the shops. They were stigmatised as “Kovhidhi”.

“With no treatment given at our local clinic, I went home to self-treat with home remedies, steaming, and painkillers. I focused on my children. As a widow from the Aids pandemic, I was not giving in. Here I am today, telling my journey of the second pandemic in twenty years of my life,” said Masanzu.

The HCF went on to share human life stories. All those who were dying were not statistics, they were people. Families were bereaved. Today, they need counselling. Let us hold hands, no stigma. We are not yet out of the woods. Being a virus, we now have to manage to live with Covid-19.

As Zimbabwe prepares to wind down the pandemic response and have it managed under all conditions, Dr. Agnes Mahomva, the national COVID-19 coordinator, being the go-getter, is ready for her next cap in the national duty call.

A salutation to all who made the response a success.

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About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende