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Zambia: Traditional practices and HIV/AIDS
By Yuyo Nachali-Kambikambii, Zambia Integrated Health Programme (ZIHP)
December 05, 2003

Zambia's 200 plus traditional leaders gathered in the capital city Lusaka from November 23rd to 26th, 2003 to amongst other things discuss what role they would play in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Even after talking about it at many fora, and discussed it to the point where many a people think statistics and facts are being exaggerated, HIV/AIDS continues to ravage many nations, and worse in Africa due to the poverty levels.

Based on estimates from the United Nations AIDS program (UNAIDS), approximately 65 million people have been infected with HIV since the start of the global epidemic and at the end of 2002, an estimated 42 million people were living with HIV infection or AIDS. UNAIDS estimates 5.0 million new HIV infections occurred in 2002. This represents about 14,000 new cases per day while an estimated 3.1 million adults and children died of HIV/AIDS in 2002.

In Africa, traditional cultures passed on from generation to generation have not helped in trying to 'quell' the epidemic and for a long time now, the people who could help out in this area have not been brought on board to fight it.

Chiefs, village headmen, Indunas and many other 'Traditional Leaders' are indeed an integral part of the fight against HIV/AIDS especially in Africa. The talks of various rituals that happen and in most cases are STILL happening, in the rural setups are nothing but ghastly for lack of a better phrase.

It is also in this vein that preceding the traditional leaders' workshop, the Zambia Integrated Health programme (ZIHP) who co-hosted the workshop also saw it important to sensitise the media on their role in the fight against the scourge.

ZIHP emphasized that the media was there to educate the citizenry for reasons of continuity and sustainable livelihoods without which there would be no hope for our future and most importantly, the media as a mirror that reflects society to itself should take the advocacy role and lobby governments on this issue of HIV/AIDS.

Without government's support, there will be no hope for the AIDS victims and it's the media's responsibility to pressurise government to formulate a meaningful HIV/AIDS policy, prioritise spending on cost-effective strategies and provide support and care to the vulnerable in society.

It was after three long days of suggestions, counter-suggestions and even differences that the traditional leaders issued a communiqué on how they would proceed after what they termed' fruitful' discussions.

The royal highnesses agreed to discourage and ultimately do away with harmful traditional practices such as use of sharps and needles in traditional medicine, sexual cleansing, widow inheritance, cross-generation sex, dry sex, early marriages and multiple sexual partners to mention but a few.

They decided that initiation ceremonies for both boys and girls should include appropriate preventive information on HIV/AIDS. Similarly, the appropriateness of such ceremonies with regard to the age of the initiate, messages communicated, practices taught and gender roles should not encourage risky sexual behaviours.

All traditional leaders would from onwards commit themselves to promoting HIV/AIDS awareness through, inter alia, community meetings, sensitisation of village headmen, drama, churches, school anti-aids clubs, training counsellors, support to home-based care, support to orphans and vulnerable children through availability of communal fields, prevention of property grabbing and other measures.

Also given the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, traditional leaders will work closely with all willing partners such as non-governmental organisations, traditional birth attendants, community health workers and similar others in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In a culture that believes that women belong to the kitchen, these royal highnesses scored a first when they agreed to use their authority to enhance women's' participation in decision making at both household and community levels. At the household level, women should be given the opportunity to participate in making decisions in regard to such matters as when to have sex and to determine the size of the family and budgeting.

After all is said and done, the onus is now on the traditional leaders to try and implement the various resolutions and recommendations to try and combat the scourge. Although it is sometimes difficult to face situations with full and complete honesty, it feels good when it is done.

The writer is the media consultant for Zambia Integrated Health Programme (ZIHP)

Zambia Integrated Health Programme(ZIHP)
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