The Sunday News
Forward Nyanyiwa and Phillipa Mukome
National Aids Council (Nac) is engaging commercial sex workers and artisanal miners in Shurugwi district – also known as “maShurugwi” — as it heightens efforts to combat the scourge in the Midlands gold-rich area and its environs.
Speaking to health journalists during a recent Nac tour of the Midlands province, Shurugwi District Aids Coordinator (Dac) Mr Petros Mazengwa said they have decided to rope in the artisanal miners after rising incidences of sexual transmitted infections (STIs).
“As Nac, we have now realised the need to involve the artisanal miners in our HIV programmes after we noticed an increase in STIs and HIV infections from the mining areas. There are stories of these machete-wielding artisanal miners demanding unprotected sex from commercial sex workers, so we saw it important to incorporate them in our HIV awareness campaigns to spread the message,” said Mr Mazengwa.
Shurugwi, he said, has arguably one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the country, at 17 percent. And this has since prompted Nac to include “maShurugwi” in HIV prevention programmes.
“They are now our condom champions who help with the distribution of condoms in these mining sites as we want to prevent both STIs and HIV at the same time,” said Mr Mazengwa.
Further, some of the artisanal miners are now working as peer educators. Nac is also deploying mobile clinics in the affected mining areas. A senior nurse at Shurugwi District Hospital’s opportunist infection clinic, Mr Robert Rusere, said there has been an increase in people testing HIV positive in the area, but most of them disappear before they are put on antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Official statistics from the last quarter of 2018 to the first three months of this year show a worrying trend of HIV patients who are reluctant to seek treatment.
“In the last quarter of 2018, we tested 858 and 77 people were HIV-positive, but only 64 percent were put on Art. In the first quarter of 2019, we tested 727 and 51 were positive but only 74 percent were put on Art. Most of them go back to the mines, declining medication,” said Mr Rusere.
Mr Tichaona Kwashira (47), an artisanal miner, said he has volunteered for Nac’s outreach programmes.
“It’s very true that some of our members demand free sex and they end up getting HIV. So we are helping Nac with condom distribution and health education at the mines. We distribute about 12 000 condoms per month and help those on Art to take their drugs,” he said.