The legacy of one woman’s dream to help people with HIV

The son of the late Auxillia Chimusoro, who was the first woman to publicly disclose her HIV positive status in Zimbabwe in 1989, is ensuring his mother’s work lives on.

The son of the late Auxillia Chimusoro, who was the first woman to publicly disclose her HIV positive status in Zimbabwe in 1989, is ensuring his mother’s work lives on.

Auxillia Chimusoro’s dream was to assist those living with and affected by HIV and enable them to publicly disclose their status so that they do not suffer in silence.

With this in mind, she set up Batani HIV and AIDS Service Organisation (BHASO), which today operates across five districts in Masvingo province – Gutu, Bikita, Zaka, Chivi, Masvingo rural and urban – with plans of reaching other places also.

Sadly, Chimusoro died in 1998. Her son, Farai Mahaso, said: “When my mother passed away Peter Marimi, the man she was working with, took over but then he went out of the country for some time. I started working at BHASO in 2003 after finishing at university. I later asked Peter to come back in Masvingo to revive the organisation.”

Building on Chimusoro’s work

Mahaso said he and Marimi teamed up to carry out various activities in the community, such as home-based care for people living with HIV and AIDS and supporting orphans by giving them school fees, though on a small scale.

“It took us some time to really get off the ground, trying to raise funds. In 2004 to 2005 we had activities working with support groups in the whole province,” said Mahaso.

They later got some funding from other non-governmental organisations and Population Services International (PSI) gave them more staff and, by 2007, they had nine members. “We were patient, we struggled but we continued besides the obstacles. At times, depending on the projects and funding our staff members can be as high as 40,” added Mahaso.

Mahaso, who is now the director of BHASO, said reviving it was a calling, perpetuating what his mother left behind. The organisation specifically supports people affected by HIV and AIDS to live positively.

Support groups

“We work with support groups and facilitate information and training, with one of our main aims being to empower people living with HIV and AIDS so that they can do things on their own, without waiting for well-wishers,” added Mahaso.

The organisation works with between 400 and 500 support groups, each with around 15 to 20 members. It provides skills such as leadership training, knowledge in HIV, nutrition and other HIV-related issues – and also offers free post-test professional counselling.

“After people get tested at different centres, and they are found to be positive, usually they do not go there again for counselling services. Here, we offer continuous counselling services,” Mahaso said.

Advocacy skills

BHASO also teaches people living with HIV and AIDS advocacy skills. “We teach them about human rights and give them advocacy skills. They form advocacy teams where they identify issues and they do the advocacy themselves,” said the director.

At health institutions people living with HIV and AIDS are sometimes treated differently, experiencing stigma and discrimination. To address this, BHASO decided to introduce a programme called community HIV and AIDS support agents (CHASA).

“The CHASA agents are people living positively who are trained on HIV and AIDS issues, usually a man and a woman. They volunteer for two days a week and go to different health institutions to offer counselling services to people living positively who will be collecting drugs at those institutions.

“It is better for them to go and offer those counselling services to their other peers who are also living positively since they will be in the same scenario and understand each other,” he added.

In some districts people living positively have difficulties in collecting their drugs because of the distance they have to travel and, at times, lack money for the bus fare. After realising this, BHASO introduced another initiative called community ART refill support group. They form groups in their respective communities and take turns to collect drugs.

Mahaso believes that society’s perceptions are changing. He said: “Stigma and discrimination was there, but has now changed with the help of support group movements which helped to remove stigma. The coming out of my mother disclosing her status helped so much, though at first she faced a lot of challenges. A lot of people are no longer afraid to disclose their status.”

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