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Men contributing to the fight against AIDS
International Video Fair (IVF)
Extracted from IVF Newsletter: Issue No 9 (Sept - Dec 2006)
November 01, 2006

Norman Mubape was among the first few men in Harare’s Mabvuku high-density suburb who, as AIDS deaths peaked in the mid 1990’s, quickly realized he had a role to play in the pandemic which was threatening to wipe out the nation.

"We had seen some men who had been deserted by their wives and left in the cold. We got together the 10 of us men from Mabvuku and said we can’t leave our fellow colleagues to die while we watch," he said in an interview.

This was in 1994, and two years later they got an opportunity to be trained in home based care facilitated by the Zimbabwe National Network for people living with HIV & AIDS (ZNNP+). However, some men felt it was women’s work such that by the year 2000 only 4 members had remained. But now men in the SADC region are increasingly playing an active role in taking on tasks and responsibilities within the household that were culturally perceived to be ‘women’s work’.

According to a UNFPA/UNAIDS and UNIFEM report globally, up top 90 percent of the care due to illness is provided in the home by women and girls.

However it is generally believed now in many countries that if men get involved in home based care they are in a better position to act as role models for younger men, show other men how to change their behaviour, protect themselves and their families against HIV and the consequences of AIDS. This shows how caring for people with AIDS can also help to prevent HIV from spreading.

It has also been generally accepted that if men and women work together in a programme on HIV & AIDS they are better able fight stigma and fear of discrimination in communities. Men who are HIV positive have a particular contribution to make in providing hopeful examples of living positively with HIV to other men and community members.

AIDS is therefore forcing people to re-examine their roles in the family and at home as people can change, especially with examples of other respected men and women acting as role models or opinion leaders.

A rural woman interviewed in South Africa estimated that it took 24 buckets of water a day, fetched by hand, to care for a family member who was dying of AIDS, water to wash the clothes, the sheets and the patient after regular bouts of diarrhoea.

As part of its strategy for addressing violence against women and its effects on HIV & AIDS, the Men as Partners (MaP) programme in South Africa focuses on the need to transform gender relations within the household. One MaP coordinator, Stephen Ngobeni, described the difficulties involved in getting men to take on responsibilities that traditionally have been viewed as women’s domain.

"When I stand up and challenge men’s roles, I’m seen to be a rebel. People look at me and say ‘how can he do things like this?’ When Ngobeni tried to get villagers to contribute to the cost of hiring trucks to distribute water, in order to ease the burden on women caregivers, villagers turned on him. "They said that was what women did traditionally."

In 2003 the remaining members of Mubape group approached Padare/Enkundlane, a Zimbabwean men’s pressure group for more training on home based care and the membership again grew first to 25 and now to 35.

According to Mubape apart from the basic nursing care and psychosocial support, they also through their male youth members provide household chores, including gardening and assisting with homework.

Mubape says the communities are beginning to accept them and appreciate their work judging from the open discussions they hold. "We go into beer halls to do programmes on HIV & AIDS."

At present their main challenge is how to meet demands with a few resources. For example the number of people who need food assistance has grown big; there is lack of adequate protective clothing, the high cost of medicine and accessing of Anti-Retroviral tablets. There is also the challenge of lack of resources to meet training demand as more people both negative and positive are daily seeking to be trained in home based care. These challenges have been compounded by Murambatsvina, a programme to clean the streets and urban areas of Zimbabwe.

Mubape said there is an acute shortage of housing in the areas they offer home based care. For example at one house in Tafara 20 families are using two rooms. When they sleep the men sleep in one corner, while women sleep in another corner and some sleep outside in order to protect their property. Mubape said their challenge was to meet food demand at the place because of glaring poverty.

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