Zimbabwe’s unsung hero fights HIV/AIDS

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By Jeffrey Moyo, Anadolu Agency

Benson Hungwe, 32, has dedicated his life to helping patients suffering from HIV and AIDS in the Zimbabwean capital.

The alleys of Epworth, a slum settlement east of Harare, echo with stories of people who are too poor to seek treatment for the disease they have contracted.

Hungwe for much of his life juggled between taking care of his siblings and completing his medical education after the death of his parents from AIDS.

He is now a revered medical practitioner and the hope for the local community of Epworth.

“With help from well-wishers and undertaking menial jobs, I did succeed to feed my brothers and also continue my education,” he said.

But, everybody is not so lucky, he confesses. For him, the fortunate part was that his parents had not passed HIV to their children.

After getting himself a job, Hungwe moved from Epworth in pursuit of an improved standard of life to Braeside, a suburb east of Harare. He would visit communities in Epworth often, helping out HIV and AIDS patients.

“Lot of people are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in Epworth; I know this because I have grown up in the area and I mingle with local HIV/AIDS support groups here made up of both young and old living with the disease, volunteering my time counselling them and helping source some nutritious food stuffs for them,” Hungwe told Anadolu Agency.

“I know the pain of watching a loved one dying from AIDS; I watched my parents dying during our days in Epworth; I’m a living testimony of how AIDS hurts,” said Hungwe.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV and AIDS prevalence in the sub-Saharan Africa. A staggering 1.3 million people, comprising 12.7% of total population, are living with HIV as of last year, according to the UNAIDS.

Hungwe said he at times helps out in the fight against AIDS through voluntarily working with some non-governmental organizations.

In 2006, Doctors Without Borders in particular, working in partnership with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, established the Epworth Clinic, which has focused on the treatment of more than 30,000 HIV patients.

Over the years, Hungwe said he has seen the pressure mounting on healthcare facilities like Epworth Clinic, and felt he had to step in and assist.

Thanks particularly to efforts by many individuals like Hungwe, today, the number of people who are HIV positive in Zimbabwe has reduced to 15% although major gaps in treatment remain, according to the National AIDS Council.

“I don’t seek popularity, but my work should leave an indelible mark, not for pay or recognition, but for the good of humanity,” said Hungwe.

World AIDS Day is being marked on Sunday to stress the role of communities to fight the deadly disease.