LUSAKA, June 3 - As Zambia struggles to provide adequate treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, a long-standing community project has proven a valuable resource in efforts to mitigate the impact of the disease.
One such project in Chazanga township, north of the capital, Lusaka, is called Bwafwano, meaning "helping each other", and has provided much-needed assistance to an estimated 2,000 township dwellers living with the virus.
The project is an offshoot of the community work done by the Bwafwano centre and is "equipping communities with the organisational and technical skills needed to tackle the disease".
A key component of the programme is providing women widowed by AIDS with skills to ensure that they become financially self-sufficient. Bwafwano executive director Beatrice Chola told IRIN that HIV/AIDS was the most serious economic challenge for the residents of Chazanga township.
So far the Bwafwano centre has trained 305 volunteers and recruited a further 250 people to form the HIV/AIDS support group. Volunteers visit almost 1,800 patients each day. Nursing the patients includes counselling, administering medication and bathing them.
However, the biggest obstacle facing the project was the ongoing stigma associated with those living with the virus. Charles Zulu, sexual reproductive health officer at the centre, said ongoing HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns were the most effective weapon in combating discrimination.
Zulu's team of volunteers target barbershops, salons and tuck shops, which now serve as "drop-in centres" for condoms and brochures on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. "Some people are shy to be associated with Bwafwano for fear of being stigmatised," he told IRIN.
To assist the growing number of AIDS orphans, Bwafwano has registered 1,479 children in need of help, whose caregivers receive detergents, blankets and soya meal to supplement their nutrition. The UN Children's Fund donates education materials to the centre, while the World Food Progamme provides food for the children.
An estimated 16 percent of Zambians aged between 15 to 49 years are living with the virus.