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December 02, 2003
AIDS in Nigeria.
Yesterday was World AIDS Day
and, although Nigeria's epidemic
is not of the same intensity at that found in some African hotspots, nearly 6% of Nigerian adults are now thought to be HIV positive.
This is a society still in denial. According to Professor Babtunde Osotimehin, chairman of the National Action Committee on AIDS, only 100,000 of the four million or so people carrying the virus openly admit their HIV status. Only 60% of Nigerians, meanwhile, have even heard of the disease.
"My husband is a typical Nigerian," the matron at a Lagos hospital told one of the Nigerian newspapers. "He does not believe that AIDS is real and he would say 'kan kan lo ma paniyan' [death is certain to come through any cause]."
"When AIDS just broke we organized lectures and seminars for the youths. He attended and when it was question time he would stand up and say it was an oyinbo [white man's] disease that is not for Africans. He was only convinced when he lost a friend to AIDS."
Fiona Duby, from the UK's Department for International Development, told me that leadership was desperately needed. "We can go on putting in money and expertise, but if things here are not going to change if people in charge are not going to make them change" she argues.
Paul Okwulehie, National Co-ordinator of Workplace Response in the Ministry of Labour, is one of the more dynamic figures driving the Nigerian's government's campaign against the epidemic. Under his direction, his department is taking a more strategic and hands-on approach.
"We are running the largest single support programme for people living with HIV and AIDS in the country," he told Daily Summit. "Here in Abuja, we are running a programme over two weeks. In the first session, we discuss the condition in general, good nutrition, and the positive effects of multivitamins. The second session focuses on personal counselling."
"We even bury people when they die, as many don't have anyone else to do it for them."
Mrs Banisi - Fruit, Spinach, Faith and Anti-Retrovirals.
By James Whyle - Capetown Monday, 27 October 2003.
There is a rejuvenation occurring in the Capetown shanty town of Khayalitsha, and it is, as Tim Parr the sound man, pointed out, fuelled by granny power.
Some years ago, Bristol Meyers Squib’s Secure the Future initiative funded an extraordinary piece of research into how grandmothers in the Cape Flats, that desolate wasteland of Shanty towns which table mountain shields from the eyes of the international tourists, were dealing with the Aids pandemic. These were women whose children had died, leaving them the responsibility of parenting their own grandchildren. Out of the revolutionary research, and the dedication and humanity of two women, one black, one white, grew GAPA, Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids.
The crucial research took place through 1999 and 2000 under the auspices of the Institute of Aging in Africa. In July 2001 the research findings were handed over to Kathleen Broderick who asked to “design an implementation” and run the intervention programme. When the programme was over and the money finished, Kathleen knew she had to continue. At present, she operates on a voluntary basis.
“It is,” she says, “passion that keeps me going.”
Mandisa Mafuya, project leader and GAPA’s only salaried staff member, used to assist Kathleen in her occupational therapy work. Mandisa owned Xhosa as a first language and myriad township contacts. Kathleen owned her education and experience and her contacts among the monied whites. And they were both passionate about Khayalitsha’s grannies. It was a partnership made in heaven.
Mondays, the woman decided, in consultation with the grannies, must be workshop day. Fridays were for special groups. Everything to do with HIV Aids was covered. Xhosa speaking workshop facilitators ran both workshops and groups. A St Luke’s social worker offered psycho-social support. Her expertise in areas like the correct methods for obtaining grants and government assistance was crucial to the success of the project.
“The grandmothers,” says Kathleen, “started to weld into a group because the were all in crisis. They worked it out together.”
Towards the end of the four month period, the grandmothers, like Kathleen and Mandisa, realized that they had to take the project forward regardless of funding. Thus was GAPA formed. The Khayalitsha Seniors club offered the use of it’s premises and the struggle began in earnest.
Khayalitsha is Xhosa for “New Home”, reflecting it’s function as the residence of displaced AmaXhosa who drifted west in search of work under apartheid. Soon after you turn off the highway, the shacks being to encroach on the road. They are made from tin, plastic, zinc, wood, nails and, probably, glue. They are made from discarded bits and pieces of industrial Capetown too numerous to categorize. Although built on sand and ridden by crime, fire and disease, they are also colourful, vibrant and life affirming. We passed an Afrikaner bull, as calm and potent as a Hindu deity, grazing on mixtures of grass and rubbish. The spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism was at work and I noted signs advertising the Afghanistan Hair Barber Salon, the Smile Photo Studios, the English Action Cash Store, and the Love More Tavern.
We parked the bus outside number C1250B Mthuma St in that section of Khayalitsha which revels in the mysterious name of Site C. This is the home of Mrs Banisi, the only HIV+ granny in GAPA. She is living proof of the efficacy of anti-retrovirals.
“I’ve seen her,” says Kathleen, “come back from death.”
When Mrs Banisi came to the workshops, the social worker had just hooked her up with Medicine Sans Frontier who had provided crucial medication at a time when the South African government was unwilling to do so. But obtaining anti-retrovirals was only part of Mrs Banisi’s problem. The stigma of Aids was destroying her family. Visitors who came to the house purposefully turned their backs on her, as though the disease was a kind of witchcraft and infection could be passed on by eye-contact.
The GAPA discussion and education about Aids, Mrs Banisi told Kathleen, “was like a light” which shone into her home and family. Now she can talk to her husband. Education has led to understanding. Her status is no longer a matter of shame. On Mthuma St. Mrs Banisi has become the person that people with Aids problems come to. Not long ago she said to Kathleen:
“I had two teenagers come to me with a condom in their hands asking me what they supposed to do with this thing.”
Nine women were seated in Mrs Banisi’s lounge when we entered. The crew filmed them as they went about the group’s business. The women sowed and stitched as they listened and talked. Numerous toddlers, the orphans they cared for, stared with big eyes at the camera. The products of their labour were proudly displayed on a cabinet. Mrs Banisi, a strong, healthy looking woman, whose tee-shirt, like her daughter’s bravely proclaimed: “HIV Positive”, spoke with relaxed authority. The few English words I picked from the stream of eloquent Xhosa told their own story: “flu… diarrhoea… fever… syphilis… weight loss… HIV Aids.” And then came the hope: “fruit… cabbage… spinach… faith… and anti-retrovirals.”
Mrs Banisi's group has negotiated with the environment teacher at the next door school to start a vegetable garden. The team trouped over to inspect it. A few hundred maize plants were sticking green shoots out a small patch of sea sand. It was something, a symbol perhaps, a miracle of loaves and fishes waiting to happen.
We walked back to Mr Banisi's house. We thanked her for the tea. We shook hands and said our good byes.
The last port of call was a vacant lot. Builders mixed cement. Piles of bricks lay in the sand next to the foundations of GAPA’s new home, funded by a local fish company. Kathleen and Mandisa were proud of the site, a tangible reward for years of labour. But the struggle is not over. The world gives, and Africa needs more. The grannies are busy with GAPA work. By a terrible irony, their grandchildren, the very people GAPA is designed to assist, receive less time and attention. Money is needed to send them to pre-school. If it is not found, they will start their official schooling at the age of seven with yet another disadvantage.
“But luckily,” says Kathleen, “the government has decided that children supported by HIV positive will get free schooling.” From seven on, the kids might have a chance.
As to the future?
“Capetown companies will often finance infrastructure, but not salaries,” says Kathleen. “And just R20 000 a months will allow GAPA to operate successfully on a sustainable basis.”
Given the cost of a single cruise missile, one of the many that failed to eliminate Ossama bin Laden in Afghanistan, or a single Corvette, like the ones which the South African State has recently purchased, it does not seem too much to ask.
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