And within the African continent Zambia is among the top ten countries burdened with the highest HIV prevalence in the world, with 1 in 7 of the population testing positive for the virus. In the Livingstone area this statistic is even higher, with an estimated 1 in 4 people testing positive. And of these, only 38% are receiving anti-retroviral treatment (ART) – a confronting statistic given that ARTs are free in Zambia.
The stigma that surrounds this disease is still extremely high in Zambia, and has proven a major barrier to people to coming forward for voluntary counselling and testing (VCT). Without knowing one’s status the virus can easily be spread, which has sadly resulted in many children are left without parents to care for them.
Doing its bit to create greater awareness about HIV/AIDS and promote testing, prevention and treatment a local level, boutique safari operator, Sanctuary Retreats, has been working closely with local communities in Zambia to help fight the disease. To mark World Aids Day on 1 December staff from its Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma property joined Nakatindi Health Committee members in a commemorative march through the streets of Livingstone. The event was attended by a number of local organizations, each doing their part to try to reduce the stigma and spread of this virus.
Sanctuary Retreats has also been working together with the Ministry of Health and the Nakatindi Health Committee to hold a sensitisation program, encouraging people to come forward for VCT. The program is focused on encouraging people within Nakatindi Clinic’s catchment area to find out their status and, if necessary, receive ART. As an additional incentive, the company has also been giving out a selection of mountain bikes from Chipego Bike Shop to randomly selected participants who come forward for VCT.
While the program is only in its infancy, Sanctuary Retreats is hopeful that the chance to win a bicycle will be a sufficient draw card for people to come forward for VCT, targeting those who are otherwise unwilling to undergo testing. Given the challenge presented by a population who is still largely uneducated about the virus, any significant impact will take a mammoth effort. However, Sanctuary Retreats is hopeful its campaign will go some way to spreading the message, encouraging people to find out their status and act responsibly.