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Perseverance pays for Zimbabwean HIV and AIDS activists
United States Embassy
December 04, 2008

Perseverance and commitment paid off for four Zimbabwean HIV and AIDS activists when they were recognized at the annual Auxillia Chimusoro Awards ceremony in Harare Wednesday December 3, 2008.

The awards are given annually by the U.S. Agency for International Development and recognize individuals and organizations whose commitment and leadership within the AIDS community has gone beyond the normal call of duty.

This year's eighth annual event was attended by representatives of Auxillia Chimusoro's family, representatives of various civil society groups working on HIV and AIDS and the diplomatic community. Oliver Mtukudzi, past winner of the award, provided musical entertainment in an event that was marred by the inability of the scheduled Master of Ceremonies Jestina Mukoko to participate.

Mukoko, who is Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which brings together various church and human rights organizations monitoring breaches of peace throughout Zimbabwe, and a board member of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, was reportedly abducted at her home early on the day of the awards. Announcing the 'unfortunate' development, U.S. Ambassador James McGee told the 200-strong audience that he had been informed that Mukoko was forced into a white vehicle by eight men and a woman. He called for her immediate release.

"We have been seeking frantically for Jestina and could not find her. What I want to say to anyone who abducted her, whether it is the army or police, release Jestina now. We need her to be released," said McGee.

Luisa Guidotti Hospital in Mutoko, Leander Kandiero, a radio presenter and producer at a local radio station, Joana Kasirori, a primary school teacher and Tendai Chiduku, one of the founding members of the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (ZNPP+) scooped awards in various categories.

Louisa Guidotti Hospital, popularly known as All Souls Mission Hospital, won special recognition for its substantial long- term contribution and commitment in mitigating the HIV and AIDS crisis in Zimbabwe by providing holistic care and support to people suffering from HIV and AIDS related conditions and their families in and around Mutoko. The hospital started rolling out anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to 784 patients from within and around the community surrounding the hospital in July 2003, offering hope to the rural poor who were living in the shadow of death. All Souls Hospital has gone a long way in providing holistic care and support to people suffering from AIDS related conditions and their families in and around Mutoko.

Leanda Kandiero's remarkable commitment and creativity in using radio to disseminate HIV and AIDS information to encourage behavior change paid off when he was presented with the Communication award. On World AIDS Day, Kandiero conceptualized and implemented a one-man 24 hour marathon broadcast on state-controlled Power FM to improve awareness of HIV and AIDS. With his program "AID on AIDS", a 10 minute program that airs every Tuesday and Thursday and has been running for over a year, he has given voice to many people who are living with HIV. He also lets listeners come out and share their thoughts and the challenges they are facing.

Joana Kasirori, a teacher, won the Community Participation award for her courage to publicly disclose her positive status on mass media which has stimulated open and frank debate on HIV and AIDS issues within her profession and community. She is a role model and pillar of strength for others living positively. Her personal testimonies and positive attitude have significantly reduced stigma and discrimination among the people whose lives she has touched.

The Leadership award was bestowed upon Tonderai Chiduku for his commitment and outstanding leadership skills in effectively responding to HIV and AIDS issues. He has demonstrated conviction and innovation in increasing the quality and depth of public discourse on the epidemic. Chiduku is one of the surviving founding members of ZNNP+ which started the support group movement in Zimbabwe. He is one of the advocates of the NATF which gave birth to the National AIDS Council. He has helped establish support groups for PLWHA since 1992. His tirelessness has indeed changed the face of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe, particularly in Manicaland.

The Social Investment award went to Art Corporation for the company's significant contribution in mitigating the HIV and AIDS crisis by putting in place a comprehensive, effective and sustainable work-based policy and program on HIV and AIDS.

Congratulating the winners, James McGee, U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, called for renewed leadership in eradicating stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.

"The numbers directly and indirectly affected by HIV are still staggering, and AIDS remains among the leading causes of death in Zimbabwe. Despite the groundbreaking work of Auxillia and others, stigma is still the single biggest barrier to individual and public action on HIV and AIDS . . . I applaud the brave individuals who celebrate life by living openly with HIV, and the individuals and organizations present today who advocate tirelessly for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS," said McGee.

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