Zimbabwe: Rural communities hit hard by HIV and AIDS (by Vladimir Mzaca, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| December 2, 2013

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Sithembile Moyo is a widowed farmer living with AIDS in the Nyamandlovu area of Matabeleland North. Her condition affects her productivity since she spends much of her time travelling to the nearest hospital.

Mrs. Moyo worries about surviving this season. She says: “The hospital is 40 kilometres away, and to make matters worse, antiretrovirals [or ARVs] are in short supply. At times we are told to wait for days for them to arrive from the nearest referral hospital.”

The National AIDS Council of Zimbabwe estimates that only 476,000 or 36 per cent of the 1.3 million Zimbabweans living with HIV receive ARVs. It is often those living in the more rural areas, including farmers, who are least able to get a prescription.

Mrs. Moyo’s husband, Lethukuthula, died of meningitis in 2006, the same year that she learned of her HIV status. She is worried that her days, too, are numbered. If Mrs. Moyo cannot plant her crops, she will have nothing to harvest, and nothing to eat. She will also not earn any money, which means she will not be able to pay school fees for her daughter.

She says, “I would die earlier because the life-prolonging drugs are scarce and [harvesting] food depends on my ability to plant. I can’t take the tablets on an empty stomach.”

Mrs. Moyo’s daughter is her only remaining family member. The widow wants to see her daughter go to university. But she is afraid her failing health will make that dream impossible. She explains: “My health is deteriorating and so I am finding it hard to pay for my child’s school fees. I fear that she will be forced to drop out so that she can take care of me.”

Mehluli Sibanda is an ex-teacher who took up small-scale farming after he retired. He, too, is living with HIV. Based in a rural area, he also finds it more difficult to access healthcare. But he has designed a survival strategy.

He says: “I now have a garden that gives me supplementary foods. I have bananas, apples and vegetables such as tomatoes. Even if I run out of tablets, I can at least keep my immunity under check.” One downside of his endeavour is that, by growing fruits and vegetables, he has less time to devote to growing cash crops.

Mr. Sibanda worries that HIV and AIDS are affecting general farm productivity. The prevalence of the disease is higher in poorer farming communities. A high proportion of the workforce is either infected with, or affected by, HIV and AIDS. Rural people living with HIV must dedicate a lot of time to coping with their condition at a time when NGOs and the Zimbabwean government are unable to assist people on a large scale.

Agriculture in Zimbabwe is being seriously affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic. As they become infected and fall ill, and lack reliable access to anti-retroviral drugs and a balanced diet, farmers are unable to produce enough food for themselves, let alone the rest of the community.