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Government and UNICEF expand community- based counselling to fight HIV/AIDS across Zimbabwe
UNICEF Zimbabwe
August 24, 2005

Harare – In an attempt to reduce the psychosocial impact of the AIDS epidemic on Zimbabwe’s children and communities, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MOHCW) to train community based HIV/AIDS counsellors across the country. To date 30,000 counsellors have been trained.

The community based counsellors advise on an array of issues affecting children and other community members. Chief among these are HIV/AIDS-related issues, domestic violence and child abuse. Meanwhile, last week in Kadoma a review was held of the programme, which included refresher training of trainers, review of the manual used and review of selection criteria and retention strategies for volunteers. This will lead to improvement in the quality of the training and expansion, should funds be available.

"Empowering communities and equipping their members with much needed skills is key to much of UNICEF’s work in Zimbabwe," said the UN Children’s Fund Representative, Dr Festo Kavishe. "We have been doing this since 2000 and peer counselling on HIV/AIDS is a monumental step, taking a critical service to the people and is something we will now seek to further expand."

Optimistic about the intervention, acting VCT Officer at the MOHCW, Alleta Makotore, said that this innovative method of counselling provides the missing link between communities and the formal health structures. "HIV/AIDS has created a host of challenges for our communities and counselling will try to ease some of these burdens, by providing a trained ear to those who have been adversely affected by the epidemic."

Topics covered in the counsellors’ training include coping with the impact of HIV/AIDS, including stigma, domestic violence, counselling victims of sexual abuse, voluntary counselling and testing, and Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission (PPTCT). The work of the counsellors has resulted in an increase in uptake of services such as PPTCT and VCT and they also work in collaboration with the traditional leadership in their communities.

A community based counsellor in Buhera, Maxwell Jaji says that communities have received the initiative well. "People usually come to me when they have just discovered their HIV status, and for most being positive is automatic death. It is only when you have counselled them that they have a will to live again. I feel good about playing such a positive role in people’s lives."

To assist the community based counsellors in carrying out their duties, UNICEF and government are in the process of revising and updating the manual for the counsellors. Regular training courses will be held to equip them with new information to help them to carry out their duties at a community level. One of our key plans is strengthening the links and referral systems between the community based counsellors and other services in the community to ensure holistic and continuous care and support.

"No one denies the challenges Zimbabwe – and many southern African countries – face with HIV/AIDS," said UNICEF’s Dr Kavishe. "This whole country needs to work together to fight HIV. People need to educate each other on safe sex, to confront all forms of stigmatisation, and as in this programme, support those already affected by HIV. Only in these ways can HIV/AIDS be defeated."

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