Saturday, 12 October 2013

How poverty fuels spread of HIV

A section of Makete Town in Njombe Region. The past decade has proved to be very tough for the residents, particularly, as Aids ravaged lives of thousands. The scars of the pandemic remain vivid to this day

Makete. A girl in her late teens, Irene (not her real name), works as barmaid at one of the pubs at Mabehewa Square in Makete Town.
This, however, is not her only trade, for as little as Sh5,000 (about $3.00), she would go for unprotected sex with any man who is not from her immediate environment.
“I don’t have any problem with you guys from Dar; I’m just scared of my fellow residents here. You have to be extra careful with them… but I’m not infected,” she tells this reporter.
For a number of years, Makete, a town in Njombe Region in the southern highlands, has become synonymous with Aids. With a population of just less than 100,000 people, Makete came into the limelight in the early 2000s following reports of hundreds of orphans who had lost their parents due to Aids.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a mere post on a social networking site about being in Makete, draws quite a number of warnings about HIV.
While some stories about Makete could pass for stereotypes, the town’s record on the pandemic is of great concern.
Statistics from the 2002 National Census showed that slightly over one per cent of the town’s children below the age of 17 were orphans, with both parents having died due to the scourge.
However, in just two years, the number of orphans in the district rose to a shocking 35 per cent. Figures released by the district’s social welfare office revealed that out of 41,413 children in the district, 13,867 were orphans.
A disaster had descended on Makete. The elderly were left to take care of the orphans. In some cases children were forced to drop out of school to become bread-winners -- the documentation which put Makete on the spotlight in national HIV campaigns.
Some of these troubles were captured in the 2005 Parapanda Theatre Lab’s heat song ‘Tufungulieni’ (open the door for us), pleading with the society to wipe away the tears and give the children of Makete a new start full of hope and development.
Irene was not spared by the pandemic. Both her parents died between 1999 and 2001, leaving her orphaned at a tender age of seven. She and her older brother remained in the care of their grandmother who died last year.
Many years later, those who were in their teens at the height of the crisis, are now adults, in their early 20s. A big bunch of the then orphaned and Most Vulnerable Children (MVC) are now in the sexually-active age bracket.