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Interview with Angeline Chiwetani
November 22, 2004

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32-year-old Zimbabwean, Angeline Chiwetani, is an HIV/AIDS activist. She has been awarded the 2004 Letten Foundation Award. The award is in recognition for her key role in reducing stigmatisation, discrimination and advocating for antiretroviral therapy.

She spoke to before she left for Barcelona, Spain where she will be presented with her award and prize money of US$10 000.

Please can you say who you are and give some background information about how you grew up and your family life?
My name is Angeline Chiwetani, right now I'm 32. I grew up in a family of 7 with me being the first born, and we are 3 girls and 4 boys in the family. My parents are all still alive and they are HIV negative. This is one thing I'm happy about. My brothers and my sisters are very supportive and we are that kind of a family that is open talking about HIV/AIDS issues at home, in the church and everywhere else. I have my 2 kids they are all boys called Simbarashe and Keith. My husband is now late, he died in 2000 and . . . he was handsome!

Please describe the work that you're doing in HIV/AIDS?
Mainly in HIV/AIDS I'm working on women specific issues. Issues affecting women, both the infected and the affected: there are some situations whereby you find that most women are being deserted by their husbands if they test positive or if they disclose their status. And one painful thing that I would always encourage people NOT to do is to abandon other people when they test positive because its active discrimination whereby you need support. You need all the comfort when you test positive, because they are so many issues that come about when one tests positive. In particular you need people around you. And it's one of those things that most of us are failing to do. People are stigmatized and discriminating against people with HIV of which many of these people are not aware of their own HIV status.

What does winning the Letten Foundation Award mean to you?
On that one it's very difficult to answer but what I can say is it's the recognition of the efforts that I have made in trying to reduce stigma because I have met so many people from different backgrounds trying to outline issues affecting us people living with HIV/AIDS. And how best other people can survive with HIV no matter you are coming from the rural background or urban setting. But HIV is cutting across everyone no matter you are rich or you are poor. It's one of those things that we have to think deeply about and create dialogue amongst ourselves because there is nobody who can talk about it if we do not talk about it.

How do you feel the current political and economic crisis is affecting the delivery of HIV/AIDS services and interventions?
In some cases it reminds me of certain incidences when I was trying to help other people in rural areas. I think maybe it was wrong timing when the political situation was not conducive that we can go and hold some workshops or meetings with different people from different settings. I was told twice not to hold such workshops but later the people in that same area noted that they were in a crisis so they needed my assistance. Because I know how it is when somebody needs help, I just thought it was wise for me to go back again and assist people. I would urge people not to politicize things because HIV is quite an issue that needs immediate attention. Lets involve people living with HIV in all decision-making levels because they are in it. We cannot decide for them. We as people living with HIV/AIDS our motto is "There is nothing for us, without us."

So I feel that most people are being affected mainly because of the economic crisis. Most of us cannot afford to buy medicines; most people cannot afford to buy the basic commodities a person would want to survive. But I think if people living with HIV/AIDS are being empowered economically then I think we can make a way forward.

How did you feel when the Global Fund rejected Zimbabwe's application for funding. Was this a blow to your future plans?
Yes it is a blow. A big blow because we where looking at the government. They had indicated that they would start the rollout to access to treatment so it then disturbed the whole thing. Now the government would say, as much as we would want to roll out the treatment, how best are we going to do it because we only have limited resources. And to make matters worse, we also subscribe to this Global Fund and now we are in a dilemma because how best are we going to help people living with HIV/AIDS especially those that now want to go on ARV drugs.

In your opinion what do you feel needs to change in order to ease the HIV/AIDS crisis?
I think the approach on tackling issues to do with HIV/AIDS that the attitudes of people need to change. We mainly need to look at behavior change. Most people think that if they are rich, they have everything that they need then HIV/AIDS can't come through them but that's not it. We have to change our behavior. If you had multiple sexual partners: please reduce. Either you stick to one person or none. I know none is a non-starter but at least one has to think deep about it and try. Also people infected have to prevent re-infection of other people.

What gives you hope? How do you stay positive and focused when there is so much despair in our country at this time?
Mainly its because I have a positive mind. Everything that I do, I just do like anybody else because you find that most people would say HIV positive people are patients. We are not patients because I'm not sick, I only have HIV, I don't have AIDS. So I urge so many other people out there especially those who do not know their HIV status to treat yourself like somebody who is HIV positive - then you are geared for living.

Do you feel that when you disclose you reduce the burden?
Yes, because I'm not stressed, and in most cases, I open doors for other people who have concerns that they cannot talk to anyone about. But because I have managed to disclose my status I have so many friends and fewer enemies.

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