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Born HIV positive, condemned for life

April 29th, 2019
topics:Humans
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana
tags:HIV, UNAIDS, Zimbabwe

After coming tops at Advanced Level in the whole of the Chiredzi district in Zimbabwe’s rural south-eastern part in 2013, then 19-year Gift Chauke’s name automatically made it to the district’s list of students from poor backgrounds that were selected to benefit that year in the Presidential Scholarship Scheme.

Gift was excited as he saw nothing standing in the way of his dream of becoming an engineer. Growing up as an orphan, he had benefited from the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM) programme, a government fund that assists learners in dire financial circumstances. And he made sure this assistance did not go to waste as he made the best of it, passing his Advanced Levels examinations with flying colours.

As a learner who was already on the Department of Social Welfare’s priority list, after excelling in his studies, Gift was offered preference when it was time for the district to choose learners who were to benefit from the highly coveted Presidential Scholarship Scheme. This scheme helps Zimbabwean students to study at universities in various parts of the world.

However, Gift could not proceed to attain his dreams because of one condition that he had never seen as a hurdle in his life… his HIV positive status, having been born with the once-deadly virus that went on to claim the lives of both his parents.

“I could not believe it when we were told that all prospective beneficiaries had to under-go thorough medical tests because the countries that were offering the scholarships did not accept HIV-positive students,” said Gift, whose course of choice was to be undertaken at a Chinese university. “I was gutted. I simply dropped out of the process because, knowing my status, this was a futile exercise,” added the now 25-year old who is a Science and Mathematics teacher in the capital, Harare.

Gift was one of the silent victims of discrimination that is suffered by the nearly two million adolescents around the world that find themselves HIV-positive, mostly having received the virus through mother-to-child transmission.

The Zimbabwean government has a number of scholarship agreements with countries such as China, Russia, South Korea, Egypt, Cuba, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, among others, most of which are countries with zero tolerance towards people living with HIV.

Of the 1,8 million HIV-positive adolescents globally, 1,5 million of them (85 percent) are found in sub-Saharan Africa which also happens to be one of the poorest regions in the world.

Tariro Makanga, a Zimbabwean health communications specialist who has worked with HIV positive people for many years said it is usually not the government that insists on these tests, but the countries offering the scholarships. “This is not a fair pre-requisite as it discriminates adolescents born with HIV,” Makanga said. “With treatment readily available, surely HIV should be treated the same way as any other medical condition. Instead we are seeing total discrimination through the requirement that one undergoes an HIV test. If positive they are disqualified,” Makanga added.

Tendai Madziyanise, a human rights lawyer said the practice is unlawful both locally and globally.

“Discrimination of this nature is against both local and international law,” Madziyanise said “But I don’t think this is deliberate on the part of our government. You will notice that as beggars, most African governments are more than grateful to be offered these scholarships and therefore cannot do anything other than agreeing to all the conditions set by the benefactors, even if the conditions violate their own anti-discrimination laws,” Madziyanise said.

The World Health Organisation, the UNAIDS and the United States Department of Health and Human Services among other bodies categorically state that there is no medical reason that justifies discrimination against people living with HIV from pursuing educational opportunities or travelling to another country.

UNAIDS statistics show that at the end of 2017 about 37 million people were living with HIV globally. Although it is home to only 12% of the global population, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 71% of the global burden of HIV infection.

Of this sub-Saharan region, southern African has the highest HIV rates. At 27%, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) has the highest HIV rate followed by Lesotho (25%), Botswana (21.9%), South Africa (18.9%), Namibia (13,8%), Zimbabwe (13,5%), Zambia (12,4%) and Mozambique (12,3%).

Other countries with high rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence include Malawi, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Kenya, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Bahamas, Nigeria, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan, Chad, and Angola. Citizens of all these African countries face restrictions one form or another when they travel because of their HIV status.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Gift could not proceed to reach his dreams because of one condition that he had never seen as a hurdle in his life… his HIV positive status.
“I could not believe it when we were told that all prospective beneficiaries had to under-go thorough medical tests because the countries that were offering the scholarships did not accept HIV-positive students,”
Gift was one of the silent victims of discrimination that is suffered by the nearly two million adolescents around the world.
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