ZIMBABWE: Fishermen neglected target for new AIDS awareness
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
HARARE, 12 May (PLUSNEWS) - As HIV prevalence rates in Zimbabwe continue to rise, AIDS activists have begun tackling areas of the country where awareness and information about the disease remain limited.
The National AIDS Council has identified fishing camps across the country as potentially high HIV transmission areas and has embarked on a vigorous campaign to educate the fishermen about safer sex.
The camps are rough and remote settlements in the bush where small groups of fishermen work the Zambezi river, staying away from home for at least a week at a time.
Absence from home, and the phenomenon of "sex-for-fish", in which women traders visit the camps and exchange sex for part of the fishermen's catch, increases the risk of HIV transmission.
When PlusNews visited the Mbila fishing camp, some 450 km east of Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo, the men were unconvinced that using a condom would prevent the spread of the virus.
The wanted to know whether condoms were safe, caused rashes, or even directly caused AIDS.
Shadreck Ndhlovu, the Binga district AIDS coordinator in Matabeleland North province, told PlusNews that the questions raised highlighted the prevailing level of ignorance about HIV/AIDS.
In Zimbabwe's steadily deepening economic crisis, the exchange of sex for fish by desperate women was an increasing problem.
"A lot of 'sex for fish' deals occur in these camps, making them high HIV transmission areas. [Although] the district AIDS council has embarked on a unique intervention targeting this particular vulnerable group in Binga, we have a long way to go," Ndhlovu remarked.
As part of the national HIV/AIDS awareness programme a focal person has been identified for each fishing camp in Binga district, who will distribute information on HIV/AIDS and condom usage.
But the volatile combination of alcohol abuse and misinformation about the disease have continued to contribute to the spread of the virus.
"Most of the time we are too drunk to even think of condoms," 22-year-old Fadzo Muzamba explained, pointing to the two drums of locally brewed alcohol at the camp. "By five in the evening most of us are drunk. 'Seven Days' (the locally produced beer) is sold at every fishing camp in the district - do you think, in such a state, anyone will insist on a condom?"
Sex-for-fish deals were still a major part of their trade, he said. "Although I have never engaged in these deals because I value money too much, some fishermen take part in these and, believe me, they are going to insist on 'nyoro' (a term for sex without a condom) because they think it's more valuable and exciting."
The Binga District AIDS Action Committee is one of 84 established by the National AIDS Council to develop responses specific to the situation in their district.