This programme is in its infancy, relying up to now on the voluntary services of Sylvia, a qualified nurse with many years experience of working in the field of HIV/AIDS. Thirty nine teachers died last year in the Ingwavuma circuit and it is estimated that the HIV infection rate is 25% amongst teachers in KZN. It is crucial to reduce the level of infection and volume of untimely deaths.
Sylvia has begun working with teachers at the six partner schools, raising awareness through education and discussion. She and Zisize's psychologist have conducted workshops for parents and teachers.
There is a reluctance, particularly amongst people of standing in the community like teachers, to seek testing at the local hospital because there is a lack of privacy and confidentiality. It is felt that within an hour of a positive test, the word has spread throughout the community. Sylvia is able to offer Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) to teachers, Zisize staff and English speaking parents and high school students in the firm knowledge that she will not divulge their status to anyone. Uptake has already been significant, but we want to employ her on a part time basis to extend this programme and also to train Zisize staff to carry out testing with Zulu speakers in a confidential manner.
Sylvia works closely with the hospital and is able to get CD4 count results and treatment expedited. She and Zisize's psychologist and social worker are able to give ongoing counselling and support to anyone infected or affected by the virus. A support group will be set up in 2008.
Of equal concern is the disregard young people exhibit for their own health and welfare in terms of engaging in unsafe sexual practices, (some bury their head in the sand and think HIV will not apply to them, others make comments such as ‘well I have to die of something’). Progress has been made with people acknowledging now for the most part that HIV does exist, but from the high teenage pregnancy rates (16% of all births in Ingwavuma between 2003 & 2006, it does not appear to have had any impact on behaviours. Some are too afraid to get tested, thereby potentially putting their babies at risk of mother to child infection, as well as threatening their own lives. They often hide their pregnancies until five months have passed.
Peer pressure on boys to father a child before they are 18 years old or risk ridicule; an acceptance of rape as being ‘excusable’ if a girl wears a short skirt, tight trousers, walks alone are realities in Ingwavuma which need challenging. The emerging Forum Theatre project and lifeskills programmes aim to do this through young people being encouraged to see that there are choices to be made in life over which they do have control and to build their self esteem and self worth so that they cease to be ‘victims of fate’ but active participants in their life path.
The drama/life-skills project, once fully funded, will be expanding to create forum plays which focus on issues related to the community, including HIV and AIDS. Currently, the group is performing two plays on the theme of Love and Protection. The first focuses on a young girl and the pressures she faces regarding sexual relationships, the second on a guardian who is trying to protect his nephew, whom he has adopted, from making dangerous choices. Issues to be tackled in future drama plays are: disclosure of HIV status, fear of ARV's, and HIV testing. These plays will be performed at schools, parent/carer forums, and special events within the community. These plays will be aimed at increasing acceptance and reducing stigma of HIV, and encouraging people to know their status to increase access to treatment.