Zimbabwe

Insights: Simba

Optimistic about the future despite HIV

Simba was born HIV-positive. His mother died of AIDS when he was six years old. In the same year he came to Newlands Clinic, where he received medical help as well as attention and support. It changed his life.

“I have a dream!”

Watch Simba's eyes light up in the video when he talks about his dream of becoming a doctor one day. He wants to help as many suffering people as possible in his country.

Insights: Home visits

Visiting patients with our social worker

Some of our patients live in the most difficult of circumstances, making it scarcely possible for them to keep strictly to their HIV treatment. Our social worker Melania Mugamu visits them in their homes to find out how we can support them better. Having her own HIV/Aids story to tell also helps.

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1/6: Newlands Clinic social worker Melania Mugamu regularly makes home visits to see patients who need particular support. Here she is calling in on two HIV-positive orphans (on the left and in the middle), who are living with their elderly grandparents.

2/6: When making visits, Melania Mugamu also has to address very private issues such as poverty, abuse and violence. She finds the strength for this difficult job in her own story: Melania herself is HIV positive and lost her husband to Aids.

3/6: Here one of Newlands Clinic’s patients is receiving a new wheelchair, without which he would be unable to make his way to the clinic to continue with his HIV treatment.

4/6: Here our social worker is visiting Memory, a 15-year-old girl who lives with her great-aunt having lost her parents. Integration in the family is very important particularly in the care of young people.

5/6: Our patient Christine faces a struggle as a single mother of four children. Depending on what Melania finds when she visits patients at home, she can apply for them to receive nutritional support, for example, or to have them enrolled in group therapy.

6/6: Back in her office, Melania Mugamu enters all the new information in the clinic software. The clinic’s pyschosocial and medical teams work together closely to improve the situation of our patients.
(Photos: Patrick Rohr)

Catching Melania Mugamu in her small office at Newlands Clinic is no easy task. Aged in her early sixties, and always ready with a warm, welcoming smile, she spends most of her time on the go. In her job as social worker, she runs group therapy sessions for patients at risk of treatment failure, counsels people currently in a particularly difficult situation, and makes home visits to patients who need special support.

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An understanding ear for patients’ troubles

Melania drives around the poor districts of Harare, visiting children who have lost their parents to Aids and live with their elderly grandparents, as well as young mothers scarcely able to provide for their babies and young people who see no prospects for the future. The primary objective of such home visits is to prevent people from breaking off treatment. “Sometimes it turns out that the reason for appointments being missed is the long journey to the clinic. In other cases, the patient’s psychological condition is so bad that they can barely motivate themselves to continue the treatment,” she says. Melania often also has to address very private issues such as poverty, abuse and violence. She makes no secret of the fact that she can have great difficulty with certain situations – for example when a small orphaned girl is passed from one relative to the next and therefore has to stop treatment at Newlands Clinic.

HIV positive herself

In tackling her difficult job, Melania can call on her own story for support and motivation: she herself is HIV positive and lost her husband to Aids in 2000. Back then there were no drugs to treat the virus in Zimbabwe. She was more fortunate, however, and although gravely ill she was able to start treatment three years later. “I had already begun to prepare myself for death,” she says. But just a few weeks into the therapy she already felt much better, and half a year later was well enough to take part in her daughter’s wedding.

Breaking the dangerous silence

Having been given the gift of a second life, she wants to use it to bring hope to people with HIV, and to fight against stigmatisation. “I’m fortunate in being able to break the dangerous silence about HIV as part of my work,” she says. It is a long battle, one that she fights together with the team at Newlands Clinic, but Melania does not doubt for a single second that it is worthwhile. And the greatest reward she can receive for her work is when a young patient starts to take their life back into their own hands, or when a child is strong enough to go back to school.

Insights: Magret und Rosaline

Fashioning a better future 

There was a time when Magret and Rosaline had nothing to do. Then they were able to set up a small company thanks to the vocational skills training programme for young people run by Newlands Clinic. «Unlimited Fashions» makes home textiles – and has opened up a whole new range of prospects for the young women.

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1/5: Magret (on the left) and Rosaline took part in the vocational skills training programme, and set up their own company together with a young man.

2/5: They cannot afford to pay rent, so their company is based for the time being in Magret's grandmother's living room.

3/5: The sewing machine was provided to the young patients as basic equipment. Their only problem is the frequent power cuts, but this should soon be solved with a solar panel.

4/5: "Unlimited Fashions" sells bedding, cushion covers and home textiles at local markets and to order.

5/5: Magret (on the left with her small daughter) and Rosaline (on the right) receive regular visits from their mentor, Tonderai, who supports them in dealing with problems.
(Photos: Patrick Rohr)

Magret and Rosaline meet us in Mbare, a high-density suburb of Harare. They want to show us their company "Unlimited Fashions", which they set up with a young man, Enoch. All three are patients at Newlands Clinic, but there is nothing apparent to suggest that they are HIV-positive and require life-long treatment.

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Magret, Rosaline and Enoch attended the vocational skills training programme aimed at helping young patients to support themselves. This is desperately needed because young people with HIV not only suffer from stigmatisation, they also have scarcely any career prospects given the dreadful state of the economy. «We just used to sit around all day,» says Magret. Many become depressed because of the difficult situation; young women often marry young and have children, even though they are unable to look after them.

The dream of running a shop

Both Magret and Rosaline already have a child, but they are fortunate in having a support network around them – and with Unlimited Fashions they now also have a small source of income. Competition is tough, but with the help of their mentor they are sticking at it. In the living room, cushion covers and bedding lie ready to be sold at the local market. Enoch is out buying material, Magret busy at the sewing machine, and Rosaline is getting the fabric ready. Their small children sleep in the next room.

«We would like to open a shop,» the young women tell us. There may be a lot of work still ahead, but they are clearly making the most of the opportunity that has presented itself.