Africa University Cares in a Region Severely Affected by HIV/AIDS
by Peter Fasan
Sitting majestically in one of the valleys of the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe, Africa University is perhaps one of the most beautiful university campuses in southern Africa. Within a short distance of this scenic campus, however, are many small towns and villages where many men, women, and children have been severely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is spreading relentlessly in the southern part of sub-Saharan Africa. The United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization estimate that out of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, 30 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. About 3.4 million men, women, and children acquired the HIV infection in 2003 alone, and 2.4 million died from HIV-related conditions. It is hard to believe that so much death and devastation exist in these beautiful surroundings.
Zimbabwe, the country that hosts Africa University, has one of the world's highest HIV-infection rates. Not less than 26.8 percent of young people and adults within the 15-49 age range, most of whom are women, are living with HIV/AIDS. A very disturbing fact is that 90 percent of those infected are not aware of their status. Estimates of HIV-transmission rates from infected pregnant women to their children are about 33 percent. The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare estimates that more than 50,000 infants are born with HIV each year. Recent data show that 70 percent of infant deaths are AIDS-related. The death rate from HIV/AIDS is high because of inadequate care, poor health infrastructure, lack of essential drugs for the treatment of opportunistic infections, and the unavailability of antiretroviral drugs (ARV) which, properly administered, have been shown to prolong and improve the quality of life for persons living with HIV/AIDS. It is currently estimated that more than one million orphans and vulnerable children live in Zimbabwe alone, most of whom have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Manicaland Province, within which Africa University is situated, has a high HIV prevalence. Life expectancy has fallen to 40 years or less. As stated by UNAIDS (2000), “HIV/AIDS pervades all spheres of life, be they physical, psychological, spiritual, economic, political, or cultural. It is also more than just an individual problem, for it affects families, communities, nations, continents, indeed the whole world.” The pandemic, therefore, demands the attention of all disciplines, departments, governments, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, faith-based organizations, and community-based organizations. Africa University has developed a number of community-outreach projects for HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and counseling of the infected and affected, and, an extensive impact-mitigation project with particular reference to orphans and vulnerable children, their families, and persons living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.
HIV/AIDS Awareness Activities
Africa University promotes HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, care, and individual counseling within and outside the university campus. The university is a private, United Methodist-related higher- education institution whose staff and students come from all the countries of Africa. This pan-African institution's programs have the potential to create ripple effects that will impact the developing countries of the region. University students participate in the development and implementation of awareness campaigns and peer-education activities within the university community and the surrounding wards and villages. The university, through its HIV/AIDS committee, confers with and seeks permission from the Provincial AIDS Committee to implement its HIV/AIDS activities within the community. The university continually seeks ways to involve the community and improve its outreach activities, formulate strategies of action to deal with the pandemic, reduce stigma and discrimination, and promote tolerance and compassion. It also advocates for the legal and human rights of students and staff, faculty, and community members affected by HIV/AIDS.
Students Education in Prevention, Control, and Care
The university has taken steps to mainstream HIV/AIDS education into many of its training programs. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program (BSN) has a strong component of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and impact mitigation in the courses taught throughout the four semesters. The program aims at providing higher education to experienced registered nurses and midwives in sub-Saharan nations. These nurses have vast experience working in rural, governmental, council, and church-related health institutions, which provide the rural community with much-needed health-care services. The clients in the rural areas are very disadvantaged. They come to the hospital already in the late stages of disease because they lack financial resources. Some clients face complications of preventable conditions, such as sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, and malnutrition. An underlying HIV infection makes these conditions worse.
A feasibility study carried out in 1998 identified the need for adequately prepared caregivers, district health managers, and coordinators of the district-level HIV/ AIDS prevention and control programs. The BSN Program offers a balanced mix of courses to achieve adequate preparation for serving rural areas usually underserved by health authorities. These courses are in health care, ethics and Christian values, social sciences, biosciences, research, health services management, nursing, and clinical studies.
The faculty of health sciences also offers a one-year Diploma in Public Health (DPH) as a prelude to the Master's in Public Health (MPH) program. The overall aim of the postgraduate program in public health is to provide training opportunities to university graduates in the discipline of public health. This enables them to contribute to the general improvement in the health of communities through participation in public-health programs in the public and private sectors as well as those supported by nongovernmental organizations. The DPH program offers a variety of courses that prepare the student for HIV/AIDS work. Such courses include HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections, Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV, and Health Services Management, which add up to more than 10 percent of the graduate public-health program.
The Faculty of Health Sciences believes that graduates of the BSN, DPH, and MPH programs will play a leading role in HIV/AIDS prevention and control programs in the region.
Community Home-Based Care Programs
The community home-based caregiver, chosen by the community, is trusted to care for the health of people in their homes and villages. The advent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic highlighted the fact that hospital wards in severely affected countries were overcrowded with people who could be cared for in their homes. Before the advent of HIV/AIDS, home care was provided for a variety of chronically ill persons, such as those with diabetes mellitus, tuberculosis, hypertension, and asthma. In addition, home care was provided for homebound and bedridden elderly patients. Orphans were also monitored in their home environment. The large and growing numbers of chronically ill HIV/AIDS patients has swelled the population of patients needing care at home. With the support of the Health and Welfare Ministries of GBGM, workshops have been held under the auspices of Africa University to upgrade the skills of coordinators and pastors in the management of home-based care programs. The home-based care coordinators have, in turn, trained hundreds of home-based caregivers and volunteers who daily attend to the needs of chronically ill patients, bereaved families, and orphans.
The Orphans and Vulnerable Children's (OVC) Project
The Faculty of Health Sciences was selected in 2004 to coordinate a major support project for orphans and vulnerable children. After visiting Zimbabwe and seeing the plight of the AIDS orphans, a United Methodist family donated $3 million to support ministries with AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe. This project of the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, mediated by GBGM, provides educational support, health care, nutritional supplements, and psychosocial support for up to 3000 orphans and vulnerable children, most whom have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Working closely with the pastors, headmasters of primary and secondary schools, and proprietors of day-care programs, the project-management team has identified more than its target of 3000 very needy children whose health and educational prospects are precarious and sometimes on the verge of collapse. Child-headed households, aged grandmothers looking after more than seven grandchildren, and poor communities struggling to cope with the devastation and poverty caused by the epidemic were also identified and registered for support within the project. The families and communities in the project are receiving help to enable them to sustain the many orphans living in the communities. This project, sad as its origins may have been, is destined to provide a valuable community outreach arena for undergraduate and graduate students of the Faculties of Health Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Management and Administration.
* Dr. Peter Fasan is Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
Date posted: Mar 07, 2005