Zambia Field Visit – Such An Eye Opener Experience

Written by Ebony Johnson – USA & North America Delegate

The sweet familiars taste of of bream fish, the feel of the warm African sun and beautiful colors and talents of open markets. I was back in Zambia… open to learning and excited.

Then it became quickly clear that not were my sweet familiars still the same, many of the sad stories of Zambia still rang true. Prisons and clinics alike were overcrowded, underfunded and struggling to meet the medical and social needs of a vast population of people living with HIV, TB and Malaria. This condition exasperated by a shortfall of trained medical staff, paid community workers and insufficient ARV therapy.

As Zambia has become a middle income country, many major donor countries have withdrawn support from commodities to funding to invaluable actual human workforce support weakening the already fragile health and social systems.

Women in Zambia are still without equal pay or fair education and employment opportunities. Homosexual consensual sex still remains social taboo, penalized and unrecognized as area where lifesaving HIV interventions are needed. Women living with HIV remain on the margins, often serving only as non-paid volunteers and struggling to supply themselves with multiple informal jobs, including sex work to maintain basic food and shelter for themselves and their children.

Even among all of the legal, social, political and funding changes needed to make Zambia the best thing for the vibrant, healthy and equitable country it has the potential to be… there were some amazing successes already in place to take note of. Just footsteps front Lusaka was a Polish orphanage with nuns have created an amazing safe, beautiful and loving home for countless children living with and affected by HIV, physical disabilities or other learning disabilities. This amazing center provides free education, HIV treatment and care, stability and support for the residents from birth till adult independence. All offers to the neighboring communities are free ARVs, parenting classes, childhood education and support. The orphanage is run by donations and volunteers and depends of continuing generosity to remain open and full functional.

Last but certainly not least was the visit to a primary school. There we saw the Zambia’s Comprehensive Sexual Education curriculum being piloted. The young learners were highly engaged as the instructor taught lessons on the reproductive health system and Adolescent Health. The curriculum was shot we to be quite comprehensive; highlighting social drivers that increase vulnerability to HIV, STI’s and unplanned pregnancy such as peer pressure, gender inequality and cultural norms. Even more exciting, this dynamic curriculum will be launched nationally in Zambian schools in 2014.

Additionally, the visit allowed us an opportunity to learn about the ongoing partnerships between UN cosponsors, bilateral governments and donors plan to increase HIV, coordinate ARV services and support human rights.

Thanks to UNAIDS for including the PCB NGO Delegation in this Zambia Field Visit. It was indeed a gift to observe, learn and provide feedback. —

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