Zimbabwe Lutheran Church Project Helps Save Lives, Promote Public Awareness

An income-generating garden for people living with HIV and AIDS in Musume, Zimbabwe. Photo: LWF/J. Brümmer
An income-generating garden for people living with HIV and AIDS in Musume, Zimbabwe. Photo: LWF/J. Brümmer

DMD Supported Project Provides Health and Prevention Care

(LWI) – A project run by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member church in Zimbabwe with support from the Department for Mission and Development (DMD) is playing an important role in helping to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the Southern African nation and educating communities about the disease.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ) initially started the project in 1999 to offer pastoral care to people affected by HIV and AIDS. It broadened its work to include increased advocacy and awareness raising in response to the 2002 ‘Breaking the Silence’ initiative, when LWF member churches in Africa agreed to work together to fight the pandemic. Today, the “HIV and AIDS Awareness and Prevention Care for People Living with HIV & AIDS and Orphans” includes a home-based care center in Musume in the southern district of Mberengwa. It provides voluntary testing, treatment and counseling, life skills training and income-generating initiatives such as vegetable gardens.

The project also aims at reducing stigma and discrimination by integrating an AIDS theme in parish activities and by involving those living with the virus in all church activities and decision-making processes.

Isheunesu Dubiwas was one of the first people to publicly declare his positive HIV status in 2003, and now works as a caregiver at the Betseranai Care Center in Musume. He says his involvement with the project changed his life. He gives credit to the food distribution approach that included free supply of nutritious porridge to HIV-positive people.

“We were given porridge to attract all those who did not yet want to disclose their HIV status,” Dubiwas says. “So when the porridge was distributed people were able to disclose their status just because they were attracted by the porridge, which was also good for our bodies.”

With an estimated 1.4 million people living with HIV, Zimbabwe is among the five countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest cases of people living with the virus that causes AIDS. Despite a reported drop in the prevalence rate from a peak of 33 percent in 1999 to 15.6 percent in 2009, the disease remains a serious threat—with 600 new infections daily—according to the United Nations agency UNAIDS.

Home Visits by Volunteers

Today, the Betseranai Home-Based Care Center has 223 trained volunteers who make regular home visits to people living with HIV to monitor their health status and family situations, identify orphans and vulnerable children, and conduct the prevention of mother to child transmission.

“The impact of the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe on the lives of people living with HIV is more than visible. Not only has the project saved lives, but at the same time it has changed minds,” said Julia Brümmer, DMD program assistant to the secretary for Project Implementation and Monitoring, after visiting the Betseranai Center in June. “It is heart-warming to see how those who received services from the project ten or 15 years ago have now become service-providers to their peers.”

Partnerships

The ELCZ is also involved in advocacy and networking with other organizations, including government departments, other non-governmental organizations, AIDS groups, and national and international partners.

“The HIV and AIDS work of the ELCZ is a great example of how bilateral funding support, the work of LWF regional expressions and LWF support can complement each other in bringing the local efforts of a member church to life,” Brümmer said.

In addition to the LWF, the Church of Sweden and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America fund the project. The sub-regional Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa (LUCSA) AIDS program also provides capacity building support and is involved in a related awareness project for young people.