HIV/AIDS project for sculptors in Zimbabwe
Too many lives are being lost needlessly in Zimbabwe to AIDS and promising sculpture careers cut short. Guruve decided we'd like to try to help change things...
Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. It is estimated at around 40% but could be higher - infection rates and deaths from full-blown AIDS are poorly reported because of the stigma that the disease carries. People are afraid to admit they are infected for fear of being shunned by society and becoming a burden to their family. Often their deaths are recorded as being due to the opportunistic infections that exploit the weakening of the immune system by the virus, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.
Given these astonishingly high HIV prevalence rates, we have been slightly surprised that, in over a decade of doing business in Zimbabwe, fewer than ten of the sculptors we know have passed away due to AIDS. However, things came to a head in 2009 when one of our top artists, Kennedy Phiri, passed away after being poorly for many years but never admitting to being HIV positive.
We were astonished to discover that the antiretroviral drugs, which minimise the effects of HIV and extend life expectancy hugely, are provided for free in Zimbabwe. So once someone has tested positive, they go onto a waiting list and within months can get free treatment for the disease. They won't be a burden to their family and the stigma of the infection is completely unnecessary. Testing positive for HIV infection is no longer a death sentence.
And yet most people in Zimbabwe still refuse to have the test, for fear of a positive result. They would rather not know - and they put their lives, and those of their sexual partners, at risk rather than have infection confirmed.
People in Zimbabwe are dying of shame and embarassment and it is completely preventable and very sad.
We decided to try to improve the situation in conjunction with the Chitungwiza Arts Centre.
The Arts Centre has a strong sense of its place within the community and has done many things over the years to reach out to the wider community. Senior members were also very concerned about the needless waste that deaths from AIDS constitute. Together, we have made a plan and Guruve has provided the initial funding to get the project off the ground.
We pride ourselves on doing business the way it should be done. We have made many friends in Chitungwiza and we care tremendously if they die a preventable death. Let's hope this project will set an example within Zimbabwe for how less embarassment and more open communication can save lives in the future.