Zimbabwe Fails Its Young People

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor-At-Large| Harare

ZIMBABWE’s acrimonious political system marked by a bitter rivalry between ZANU PF and MDC political parties combined with a decade-long economic collapse has sidelined the social and economic rights of young people, according to a recently published study.

The new study, which surveyed 1500 urban-based youths  in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Chitungwiza, revealed that most young people, that is, 76 percent of the respondents had a basic understanding of their socio-economic rights. Most of the young people felt that promoting such rights through human rights education is required.

In addition, 58 percent of the youth respondents said the government has the primary responsibility for providing socio-economic rights

The study, which was conducted by Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ), aimed to investigate young people’s views on social and economic rights, focusing on awareness, availability and accessibility of such rights.

Many youths in Zimbabwe – approximately 65 percent of the total population – are currently trapped in poverty and unemployment, with their voices largely curtailed in nation building endeavours such as the constitution making process. The study, titled, “Socio-Economic Rights: Youths Know Your Rights,” revealed that the current constitution does not have a provision for economic and social rights of young people. This is despite the fact that over the years the government has ratified various international human rights instruments which it has failed to incorporate into domestic law. According to Sydney Chisi, director of YIDEZ, the ongoing constitution making process had been a missed opportunity to address the issue of young people’s economic and social rights.

“The motivation of the study was the context of socio-economic rights within the framework on the ongoing discussion on the constitution. One of the missing links is that the discussion has been largely political and there has been very little focus on issues of socio-economic rights. If you look at the political discourse in post independent Zimbabwe, you’ll see that we have been moving away from issues of social and economic rights,” said Sydney Chisi, director of  YIDEZ.

To reduce unemployment rates and increase access to jobs, most of the young people surveyed said that Zimbabwe needs major legislative and policy reforms and external assistance for economic development. Sixty-two percent felt that an effective land audit should be conducted by the government to repossess all unproductive land and redistribute it to productive farmers.

The survey found that 32 percent of young people felt that title deeds should be issued to farmers to ensure security of tenure and boost confidence in the farming sector, while 6 percent felt that government must mobilize and distribute farm inputs before the beginning of each season.

“It is all about bread and butter issues. It about access to health, education and responsible local governance. It is difficult to talk about politics and democracy without taking it consideration fundamental human rights. The absence of access to fundamental social and economic rights will exacerbate the abuse of young people. Politicians have a way to come and promise services to young people. So we want young people to know about their basic social and economic rights  as a way for them to demand accountability from their local and national governance structures without necessarily being partisan,” said Chisi.

In the study,  72 percent of the respondents, said that despite slight improvement in the provision of health care following the formation of the inclusive government, young people were still facing a plethora of challenges to access affordable and quality healthcare. In addition, the respondents felt that decrease in public financing of the education sector, exorbitant fees and shortage of teachers is hindering young people from accessing quality education.

According to the study, the sidelining of social and economic rights can be a powder keg that if left unaddressed can hinder the country’s development.

“Zimbabwe has become a nation that is marked by oppressive political arrangements that favour particular segments of society and marginalize the basic survival rights of the average masses. It is saddening to note that social and economic rights have taken second or no place at all in the country priorities,” says the study.

In Zimbabwe, Women Face Baby Pressures

By Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor-At-Large

When Maidei Tavaziva (30) consciously chose not to conceive for approximately five years after getting married, she experienced a barrage of salient remarks from her relatives suggesting that time was up for her to reproduce.

“My aunts, my grandmother and my other relatives started telling me that I needed to have a baby. I suspect that my husband’s relatives were also talking behind my back. My grandmother would say that she now wanted a grandchild. I’m definitely convinced that in Zimbabwe, there is social pressure to produce a baby once you enter into marriage,” said Taziva.

Tavaziva added that though some of the comments appeared innocuous on the surface, the intent was clearly to influence her to get pregnant.

“Of course, I knew that what my relatives wanted was for me to get pregnant and deliver a healthy infant, preferably a boy, so that I could secure my relationship with my husband, and increase my status,” she said.

Unlike most women, Taziva said that she did not bow down to the pressure; she stuck to her guts not to have a child early in marriage because she needed to first complete her educational studies without the pressure of having to look after a baby.

According to traditional norms in Zimbabwe, a woman has a responsibility to expand the clan of her husband once she is married. Babies are often regarded as sealers of marriage – but not just any baby – women are generally expected to give birth to a baby boy who will carry the family name and inheritance.

“A woman who has a first-born child who is a girl is not as revered as one with a boy. So women are under pressure to produce baby boys,” said Betty Makoni, Global Advocate for CNN for protecting the powerless and CEO of Girl Child Network Worldwide.

However, a woman who has a child outside of a recognized and socially sanctioned sexual union faces the risk of being ostracized by family, the community and religious organizations to which she belongs.

“Girls who fall pregnant force themselves into marriage or are forced into marriage. Many women are married because they’ve fallen pregnant,” said Makoni.

For most newly married women in the country, the desire to fulfill social expectations to conceive immediately after marriage supersedes efforts to engage in proper family planning.

“I have friends whom after marriage have experienced pregnancy check-ups from their relatives. They will start to check the skin tone, whether you have nausea and at family gatherings they expect to see you with a bump. Society still expects women to follow the conventional trajectory of dating, marriage, and then children,” said Buhle Makamanzi, a development sector consultant and mother of three.

“This is not to say that motherhood is a bad thing; for me, there is nothing in this world as fulfilling as being a mother – your heart certainly grows bigger.”

According to a Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust (WLSA) study titled “Pregnancy and childhood: Joy or despair?” women’s sexual lives are mediated by those of men.

“Women must conform to male strictures or so they believe. Thus, if their sexuality is perceived as a reproductive resource by males and is controlled by male norms and values, women who are dependent on males will seek to conform to those norms and values,” states the study.

But as Tavaziva revealed the pressure on her came mainly from her female relatives, and that may have been no coincidence.  According to the WLSA report, women often use their reproductive capacity to support their entitlement to benefit from resources held by men.

“This reliance on reproductive roles means that women are obliged to fill that role and produce children to secure their membership in their marital families and build up status that secures their entitlements in that family in their later years,” says the study.

The study also noted that women’s sexual integrity may be demanded and enforced by their natal families to maximize their opportunities for successful marriages.

Makamanzi commented that as women become more independent-minded due to increased access to educational opportunities, social expectations about the timing of pregnancy within marriage are beginning to shift, albeit, slowly.

“One major factor is whether the husband succumbs to pressure, if he does, then as a woman, you’re forced to try for a baby even if it wasn’t your plan. With the buzz on women’s empowerment, some women are beginning to think outside this box. However, pregnancy borne out of societal and family pressure is still rampant even among the so-called career women,” said Makamanzi.


Diabetes in Zimbabwe: It’s Not All About Sugar

GROWING up in Zimbabwe, diabetes (a polygenic disease characterized by abnormally high glucose levels in the blood) was something that the old people always talked about, and the fear of the disease grew over me like a giant baobab.

To describe a person with diabetes, the old people would say in local parlance “Ane shuga”, which literally means: “He/she has sugar”. Essentially, it meant that the affected person has a disease associated with sugar.

To my childhood fancy, I thought that the people who were affected with the diabetes ate a lot of sugar only to discover later it was the common understanding.

Most people in Zimbabwe associate diabetes with a high intake of sugar, particularly in tea.

Little to no other foods are associated with the onset of this condition. Put simply, very few people know that eating too much of carbohydrates, fats, proteins can increase the incidence of diabetes.

I discovered later that diabetes mellitus occurs when the pancreas does not make enough or any of the hormone insulin, or when the insulin produced doesn’t work effectively. In diabetes, this causes the level of glucose in the blood to be too high.

According to experts, the number of people with diabetes in Zimbabwe is growing. In 2003, Zimbabwe recorded more than 90 000 cases of diabetes, an increased of 3 000 from the 1997 figure.

The Diabetic Association of Zimbabwe estimates that around 400 000 people in the country have the disease but many are unaware on their condition.

“About 50 percent of Zimbabweans are diabetic but are not aware of the condition, so many people are suffering from diabetes but do not have any knowledge about it,” a Zimbabwe Diabetes Association official was quoted in The Herald newspaper.

“It is sad that a lot of people have died because of this disease without knowing it, and only relatives will know about it after a post-mortem has been conducted,” added the official. Continue reading

The Great Vasectomy Fear

For most men, the idea of vasectomy, a surgical procedure to cut and close off the tubes that deliver sperm from the testicles, is a complete no-can-do associated with being sexually dysfunctional in the male psyche.

According to the latest issue of Population Reports, titled “Vasectomy: Reaching Out to New Users,” published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, vasectomy is simpler and more cost effective than female sterilization and offers men a way to share responsibility for family planning.

“The most entrenched and powerful rumors concern manhood, masculinity, and sexual performance. Many men confuse vasectomy with castration and fear, incorrectly, that vasectomy will make them impotent,” says the report.  But in fact, “Castration involves removal of the testicles. In contrast, vasectomy leaves the testicles intact, and they continue to produce male hormones.”

The procedure which typically takes from 15-30 minutes and usually causes few complications and no change in sexual function is one of the most reliable forms of contraception. Though it does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections or HIV, for couples it is a way for men to be directly involved in family planning. Family planning has been largely seen as the responsibility of women but vasectomies allow men to play a part.

The report states that the largest number of vasectomized men are in China, where almost 7% of women in relationships — or more than 17 million couples — rely on vasectomy for birth control. Continue reading

In Jamaica and Globally AIDS Stigma Barrier to Progress

In 2005, Jamaica – a country notorious for homophobia predominantly channeled through musical lyrics – received global attention for the killing of Lenford “Steve” Harvey, a gay man and an AIDS activist.

Harvey’s murder was blamed on stigma and discrimination against gays, and led to a huge outcry within the AIDS community.

The witch hunt against homosexuals in the country is regarded as a factor contributing to the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

According UNAIDS, the national HIV infection rate in Jamaica is 1.5 percent among an estimated 2,700,000 people, and AIDS is the leading cause of death among 15- to 44-year-olds. Predominant modes of HIV transmission include multiple sex partners, history of sexually transmitted infections, drug use, and unprotected sex among men who have sex with men.

It is estimated that 33 percent of gay men in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, are HIV positive, but many of them opt to stay underground, away from public health services due to fear of stigma and discrimination. Continue reading

Africa Must Act on Climate Change

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe urged African governments to do more work on climate change which threatens to unravel the lives of millions of people across the continent.

 

Mr. Motlanthe also called on the countries of the world to work in harmony in order to resolve the problem of climate change.

 

“Africa is one of the regions least responsible for climate change, but it is the most affected and least able to afford the costs of adaptation,” the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian quoted him. “”We must act. We owe it to the millions of people who will be directly affected.”

 

The issue of climate changes and its impacts has been the least of priorities for many African countries which are faced with numerous socio-economic and political challenges.

 

In addition, African government lack the financial wherewithal for technical innovation that have often been bandied as the solution to the problems presented by climate change.

 

In itself, South Africa is the largest emitter on the continent and depends on coal for 90% of its electricity needs. Moves to diversify to other energy sources have stalled due to a lack of policy framework and incentives for investors.
 

Mr. Motlanthe was quoted as saying that the problem of climate represented an opportunity to deal with the economic meltdown unraveling across the globe.

 

“As with climate change, this [economic crisis] is largely a crisis that is not of our own making but one which, like climate change, will affect us all and the poorest the most,” he said.

 

“For us in South Africa, the climate change challenge is therefore not only one of climate stabilisation, but it is ultimately also about combating poverty and promoting healthy livelihoods, energy security and sustainable development.”

 

Mr. Motlanthe stressed that the worst impact of climate change could be avoided if the rest of the world took up the challenge and acted in a united fashion.

 

Strategic Communication for Health in a New Age

To respond effectively to the growing epidemics of AIDS and TB around the world, a strategy for communicating messages that influence change of individual behavior, community attitudes and socio-political dynamics is absolutely critical.

In order to make communication effective, there is a need to fully and rigorously understand the audiences, including contextual factors (political, cultural, economic, gender etc.) that determine the health choices people make.

The underlying factor is that communication does not occur within a vacuum, and thus it is essential to be aware of elements that may deter effective communication in the design, distribution and measurement of AIDS or TB messages.

Communication that saves people’s lives, improves health and enhances well being is about ideas, creativity, research, knowledge and money. Given the fact that resources are finite, strategic communication needs to consciously build upon existent social capital to ensure sustainability of processes.

Strategic communication can help to shape context and build relationships that enhance the achievement of objectives to respond effectively to AIDS and TB.

To be effective, strategic communicators must understand attitudes and cultures, respect the importance of ideas, adopt advanced information technologies, and employ sophisticated communication skills and strategies. To be persuasive, they must be credible.

More importantly, strategic communication for better health appreciates what works scientifically combined with flexibility to adapt it to specific cultural contexts.

As already stated, it should go beyond simply addressing individual behaviour to structural and institutional realities that are largely responsible for driving diseases and epidemics. In many ways, public policies tend to be responsible for social and health inequalities and cannot be ignored in the communication process.

Therefore, an effective communication strategy puts people and structural realities at its heart in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of messages.

In essence, strategic communication for better health needs to be informed by a process that identifies behaviours and attitudes, identifies policy priorities, and embarks on a process to influence a broad section of society through appropriate themes and messages.

In that respect, communication is not an end goal, but rather a means to influence dialogue and engagement through relevant mediums.

Barnlund Communication Model

Labouring over which medium to choose when targeting a specific audience is a critical component in the communication for health process. In many ways, the medium defines the message in as much as does the target audience. A chosen medium has its limitations, and key messages and themes have to be aligned to the limitations of the medium to ensure effective message delivery. Obviously, the research-based needs of a target audience determine what delivery mechanisms to utilize.

It is important to know at the outset what goal seeks to be achieved with the particular choice of a medium so that the measurements of success or failure are specified.

Events, activities, messages, and materials must be designed with your objectives, audiences, partnerships and resources clearly in place. Building a communication strategy is about directing and focusing evidence-based messages and themes according to clearly defined pathways to achieve intended objectives.

The process of strategically positioning communication needs to ensure the participation of intended beneficiaries in the designing of messages, no matter what the level of focus.

Strategic communications shifts away from communicating to, and instead focuses on communicating with target groups in order to establish solutions., with emphasis being on how to build a relationship that allows for communication to take place so that appropriate action is taken. In that sense it is a significant shift from the magic bullet theory of communication which treats audiences as inactive recipients of messages.

Fact-based communication research is necessary for demonstrating and validating the need for resources required to increase the impact of communication. It is also essential that message platform for key initiatives are identified through the research process.

According to Wikipedia, “strategic communication provides a conceptual umbrella that enables organizations to integrate their disparate messaging efforts”. In other words, it enables organizations to “create and distribute communications that, while different in style and purpose, have an inner coherence”.

New media offers a significant opportunity to unify organizational health communications in order to achieve that inner coherence which is often times based on the vision, mission, goals and values of the organization.

New media offer an opportunity to encourage conversation and promote collaboration in creating appropriate messages. It is essential to integrate social media into the communication infrastructure and tap into its potential to create dialogue and reach a wide audience. New media make it easier and faster to communicate and collaborate, and essential element to public health communications.

The ability of new information tools to alter the way we communicate needs to be tapped into but as with any component of the health communication process the focus must be on people and not just the technology.

Overall, a strategic communication process needs to be planned, directed, coordinated, funded, measured and conducted in ways that promote the wellbeing of individual in a manner that aligns with organizational values and goals.

The Fallen Grain

On a scorching day in Zimbabwe’s Buhera District, approximately 300 people queue to receive food handouts. All of them are beneficiaries of the food packs that local NGO Dananai Home-Based Care (HBC) has been distributing to people living with HIV and AIDS for the past five years.

 

Though Dananai HBC’s main mandate is to provide care and support to critically ill people living with HIV and AIDS it became apparent to the group that further interventions were needed to help improve patients’ living conditions.

 

In 2002, Dananai HBC partnered with Africare and WFP to provide food handouts in an attempt to meet the nutritional needs of people living with HIV and AIDS involved in the home-based care program and their dependents.

 

As the sun threw its hot rays across the sky, a slight easterly wind breezed through the slender gum trees at the local clinic, which serves as the food distribution point. The hordes of people chatted among themselves, some waiting for their turn to receive the food handouts, while others pushed wheelbarrows filled with maize sacks back and forth.

 

Some sat on the sacks, waiting for cattle-driven scotch carts to take them across the hot landscape to their homes. Meanwhile, an old woman crouched onto her knees and began picking at the grains of maize that had fallen to the ground, putting them slowly into a green plastic bag. As the bags of maize are pushed and shoved, some inevitably tear, and maize grains fall out.

 

Three women in the queue told her stop but she shot a retort back at them and they turned their attention back to the business of receiving food rather nonchalantly. The old woman began curtsying as she concentrated on picking the fallen maize grains.

 

‘We see this all the time. The people cannot tolerate the sight of maize grains on the ground. No grain can be wasted, so they pick it, one by one,” an Africare program officer responsible for overseeing food distribution said.

 

Africare, an INGO is responsible for the actual distribution of the food and the recipients of the aid are identified through the Dananai Home-Based Care project. If a recipient living with HIV dies, their family is allowed to continue collecting the food for six months before their handouts are cut.

 

The food handouts are popular in the community due to the high levels of poverty. The rainfall pattern in the area is erratic and subsistence farming, which many of the people in the district practice, has suffered immensely as a result. The district has experienced four consecutive droughts in the past decade alone.

 

“I have been to many households in the district, and many do not have any grain stocks. The situation is pathetic,” said Nonia Temberere, coordinator of Dananai Home-Based Care project.

 

Many of the households in the community are headed by women, either because they have been widowed or because their husband works and lives elsewhere. It is through the eyes of women that the impact of HIV and AIDS on this community is best reflected because they have been forced to work hard to feed their families as well as to provide care and support to the sick.

 

It is no coincidence that many of the people in the food queue are women. According to Africare workers, special care is taken to make sure that women are the main recipients as men tend to be less responsible with the provision of the stocks.

 

But the availability of food is creating a schism within the community and has resulted in increases in the numbers of people requesting HIV tests. Due to the levels of food, those receiving food through the home-based care program are perceived as better off than others because they have access to food.

 

So the demand for inclusion in the program is growing and hordes of people have been reporting to the HIV-testing facility at the Roman Catholic-funded Murambinda Mission Hospital.

 

“Some people get sad when they test HIV-negative,” said the coordinator of the New Start Voluntary Counselling and Testing centre, which conducts provider-initiated HIV testing at the Murambinda Mission Hospital.

 

If patients tests positive for HIV, they are immediately referred to the hospital or the Medecines San Frontieres (MSF) opportunistic infection clinic that distributes antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). Critically ill patients are incorporated into Dananai HBC programs through volunteer caregivers living in their community.

 

But testing positive for HIV is not enough and to enroll in the program patient must be on ARVs, in a critical and disadvantaged state and they must need food assistance.

 

This message does not seem to have reached some members of the community and there have been some accusations that community leaders, responsible for selecting beneficiaries, are biased and have only selected their friends and relatives.

 

As the old grandmother picked the fallen maize, it was clear from her bedraggled stature that she badly needed some assistance. She is, however, not on the list of beneficiaries and she is angry at the blood tests she took.

 

“I have taken three blood tests but they have not said anything to me. They can take more of my blood if they want, but for God’s sake, they should also give me food,” she said, scooping a handful of maize grains mixed with soil from the parched ground.

 

“I have a problem with my back from a pregnancy operation that I had in 1952,” she said, adding, “If my son was still alive, this could never happen to me.”

 

She pulls a wad of documents out of her green plastic bag and selects the record of her son’s death.

 

“I look after his three children. I also showed them this but they still refused to include me in the list. These organisations should go to the community and see the favouritism that takes place in the selection process,” she said.

 

“One of the problems is that as sick people receiving ARV treatment become well, and are able to perform normal duties and still receive food ahead of household that may be less privileged. There are always accusations of favouritism,” an Africare worker said. “The food is meant for those that are ill.”

 

According to Africare’s records, the number of people on the waiting list for food aid is overwhelming. MSF, which is also partnered with Dananai HBC, has seen a huge increase in the number of people needing ARVs.

 

The availability of food is one of the keys to helping Dananai HBC recipients to regain control of their lives. In the absence of nutritious food, the success of ARV treatments is severely compromised.

 

Many of the households in this district, which relies on subsistence farming, face food insecurity and find themselves hard hit by a disease that preys on society’s weakest. The challenges faced by Dananai’s HBC project mirror the challenges facing the country in general. At the heart of the problem is the need for food.

 

Poor access to water is also a problem for many communities. It is ironic that though the Bangure area in Buhera has the large 1970s Rundi Dam, the only benefit to the community is the supply of fish from the water catchment.

 

The need for food makes many of the communities in this area overly dependent on external assistance. Hungry stomachs appear to make many of the communities lie on their backs with legs crossed and lethargy seems to stalk the land.

 

The communities are just beginning to awaken to the need for HIV testing and the power of ARVs, but they are also fully aware of the fact that food security remains a big challenge.

 

 

Low Cost Technology Saves Poor

 

Most Zimbabweans –  about 70 per cent of the population – live in rural areas and are engaged in smallholder agriculture. These smallholder farmers, particularly in the country’s low rainfall areas, are extremely food insecure and have little or no access to new technology.

 

They suffer from low incomes and a generally low standard of living, poor health and nutrition, poor housing and an inability to send children to school. Soil degradation and outdated farming methods have kept rural families trapped in poverty.

 

Inadequate and unreliable rainfall and the recurrent threat of drought also restrict the potential of rain-fed agriculture, on which the livelihoods of most smallholder farmers depend. In a word, access to water for irrigation is one of the most critical constraints that small farmers face.

 

Making matters worse, AIDS is undermining agricultural systems and affecting the nutritional situation and food security of rural families. As adults fall ill and die, families face declining productivity as well as loss of knowledge about indigenous farming methods and loss of assets.

 

The devastating consequences of the epidemic are plunging already poor rural communities further into destitution as their labour capacity weakens, incomes dwindle and assets become depleted, with the latter affecting mostly women and children who have few property rights.

 

According to a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, agricultural output in communal areas has declined by nearly 50% among households affected by AIDS in relation to households not affected by AIDS. Maize production by smallholder farmers and commercial farms has declined by 61% because of illness and death from AIDS.

 

Women and girls are especially vulnerable. They face the greatest burden of work – given their traditional responsibilities for growing much of the food and caring for the sick and dying in addition to maintaining heavy workloads related to provisioning and feeding the household. In many hard-hit communities, girls are being withdrawn from school to help lighten the family load.

 

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) describes household food security as “the capacity of households to procure a stable and sustainable basket of adequate food” (IFAD, 1996). It incorporates: (a) food availability; (b) equal access to food; (c) stability of food supplies; and, (e) quality of food. All aspects of this are affected by both the household-level impact of HIV/AIDS and the wider impacts of a generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic.

 

In households coping with HIV/AIDS, food consumption generally decreases. The household may lack food and the time and the means to grow and prepare some food. For the patient, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS can form a vicious cycle whereby under-nutrition increases the susceptibility to infections and consequently worsens the severity of the disease, which in turn results in a further deterioration of nutritional status.

 

The onset of AIDS, along with secondary diseases and death, might be delayed in individuals with good nutritional status.

 

Nutritional care and support may help to prevent the development of nutritional deficiencies, loss of weight and lean body mass, and maintain the patient’s strength, comfort, level of functioning and self-image.

 

In effect, the nutritional status of HIV/AIDS patients can also help improve the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy, when it does become widely available to poor rural people.

 

In such a context, labour-saving technologies that will adapt agriculture to new conditions generated by HIV/AIDS can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death.

 

Drip-irrigation is a low pressure, low volume irrigation system suitable for vegetables, shrubs, flowers and trees, and can be helpful when water is scarce or expensive.

 

Already popular in countries such as Israel and India, drip-irrigation has been gaining attention because of its potential to increase yields and decrease water use, fertilizer, and labour requirements, if managed properly.

 

Drip irrigation (sometimes called trickle irrigation) works by applying water slowly and directly to the soil. It is the slow drop-by-drop, localised application of water at a grid above the soil surface. Water flows from a tank through a filter into lines then drips through emitters into the soil next to the plants. The high efficiency of drip irrigation results from two primary factors. The first is that the water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run-off. The second is that the water is only applied where it is needed (at the plant roots), rather than sprayed everywhere as in sprinkle or furrow irrigation systems.

 

Nutrients can be applied through the drip systems, thus reducing the use of fertilizers. Soil is maintained in a continuously moist condition. With a 100 square meter garden, equipped with low cost drip kit technology, a family of five can grow nutritious vegetables for consumption throughout the year.

 

This inexpensive kit offers a 50 per cent savings on water, over 80 per cent yields, and better quality vegetables and herbs. Because of its minimal labour requirements, the kit is well suited to serve HIV and AIDS affected households headed by orphans or their grandparents, where labour maybe in short supply.

 

In Zimbabwe’s rural areas, HNGs are widespread, yet they are largely neglected in spite of their potential to cushion disadvantaged and AIDS-affected families from food insecurity. Ordinarily, a HNG is cultivated close to home, thus eliminating the need for farmers to travel to distant fields.

 

HNGs can play a significant part in enhancing food security in several ways, most importantly through: 1) direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods, 2) increased purchasing power from savings on food bills and sales of garden products, 3) availability of food throughout the season and especially during seasonal lean periods, and 4) savings on water, time and labour.

 

Improving household gardening requires the optimal use of land and irrigation, as well as a dynamic integration of additional crops and crop varieties with specific value and uses. A well developed HNG has the potential, when access to land and water is not a major limitation, to supply most of the non-staple food that a family needs every day of the year, including roots and tuber, vegetables and fruits, legumes, herbs and spices.

 

Roots and tubers are rich in energy and legumes are important sources of protein, fat, iron and vitamins. Green leafy vegetables and yellow-or orange-colored fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals, particularly folate, and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables and fruits are a vital component of a healthy diet and should be eaten as part of every meal, and are highly recommended for people living with AIDS

 

Smallholder farmers generally grow three cycles of crops per year. Typically, this includes at least one cycle of vegetable crops during the winter months, and an early maize or bean crop that can be harvested in December. The exact cropping cycles and systems will depend on regional climate, soils and input availability, in conjunction with the specific skills and nutritional needs of the household.

 

Farmers are encouraged to grow locally available indigenous crops that are highly nutritive but often neglected. The crops contain good nutrients and often require low labour-input. They represent a flexible source of food supply and can be easily preserved. Besides providing a source of income, they are adapted to cultural dynamics and local food habits.

 

They produce ample seeds without creating a dependence on external resources. Because the technology is new, smallholder farmers require technical support and training to help them tap into the full potential of the kit.

 

By strengthening the capacity to produce food at household level using low-cost technologies, negative impacts can be mitigated for AIDS-affected communities. Labour saving technologies and improved seed varieties can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death, and assist farm-households to survive prolonged crisis, such as that caused by AIDS. Through agriculture and rural development, resilience against HIV can be built.

 

Drip irrigation technology offers much promise for landholders in the communal areas of Zimbabwe, where water application has traditionally involved the use of surface irrigation and “bucket watering”. Both methods are inefficient and waste a lot of water. Using the bucket involves hard work especially when the water is far away and scarce.

 

With drip irrigation, communal farmers, especially women, who are the primary carers and pillars of the community, can be able to maintain their gardens with ease, efficiently and at a low cost.

 

Also, drip technology will give quick returns on a small investment, and growing vegetables will provide both nutrition vegetables and year-round incomes.

 

As the old Chinese saying goes: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

Is Cutting the Male Penis An AIDS Miracle?

 “If you’re a man, get cut today”

Male circumcision (the cutting of the foreskin from the male penis) is increasingly gaining currency among medical researchers as an alternative method to reduce HIV-infection.

But will this solution really work? 

Researchers say that if all men in sub-Saharan Africa — the worst HIV/AIDS affected region in the world — were circumcised over the next decade, roughly two million new infections and 300 000 deaths could be averted. 

An additional 3.7 million new HIV infections and 2.7 million deaths could be avoided in 20 years.

Put simply, while the benefit of male circumcision to an individual man is immediate, a large scale impact of the intervention will be realized in two decades. 

AIDS risk lowered by 60% 

In fact, evidence from observational studies in sub-Saharan Africa has shown that circumcised men have a lower risk of acquiring HIV infection than uncircumcised men. A study in South Africa showed that male circumcision might reduce by about 60 percent the risk of men contracting HIV through sexual intercourse with women. 

The study focused on 3000 HIV-negative, uncircumcised men ages 18 to 24 living in a South African township. Of these, half were randomly selected for circumcision while the other half remained uncircumcised and served as a control group. 

For every 10 uncircumcised men who contracted HIV, about three circumcised men contracted the virus. Researchers believed the findings were so significant they deemed it was unethical to proceed without offering the option to all males in the study. 

The argument is that the inner surface of the penile foreskin contains Langerhans cells, which have HIV receptors, and is also vulnerable to disruptions during intercourse. Second, an intact foreskin exposes a man to a greater risk of ulcerative sexually transmitted infections, which in themselves are a risk factor for HIV acquisition.

Furthermore, the virus’ chances of survival might be higher in a warm, wet environment like the one under the foreskin. 

How will it affect society? 

The evidence that circumcision may protect against HIV infection is now considered strong enough that further trials evaluating the efficacy of circumcision as part of an HIV prevention program have been advocated.

This could herald a new era in HIV-prevention methods. But the question remains: what are the societal implications of such a solution? 

Male circumcision has been practiced extensively in some sub-Saharan communities in rites of passage ceremonies from boyhood to manhood. The gruesome circumstances under which such practices occur may be exacerbated in the light of this new evidence. Other communities have not practiced it at all. 

However, qualitative studies in the Botswana, Haiti, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe revealed positive attitudes toward male circumcision in populations that do not traditionally practice it.

From 45 to 85 percent of uncircumcised men in surveys expressed interest in the procedure if it is safe and affordable. In spite of the interest in male circumcision, it is not a magic bullet in the fight against HIV-infection. To be effective, circumcision has to be promoted alongside condom use and faithfulness, long-established approaches in the fight against HIV. 

Education and money will be essential 

Some men may be tempted to engage in unprotected sex because they perceive they are protected by male circumcision. And some women may get a false sense of security when having sex with a circumcised man. 

In itself, male circumcision provides little or no protection against urethral STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia and certainly cannot prevent unwanted pregnancies. This issue will need to be strongly emphasized in social campaigns. 

To be successful, male circumcision will have to be complemented by a massive investment into education and counseling programs. There will be need for widespread and culturally sensitive dissemination of information that outlines the benefits and potential complications of male circumcision. 

Another danger is that male circumcision can be risky or fatal if conducted by untrained personnel. There’s no doubt that with increased knowledge of male circumcision as a barrier against HIV, many men will try to perform it on their own.

There will be obviously costs involved in getting circumcised which some people will try to circumvent. Circumcising large numbers of adult men will be a major undertaking. If circumcision is not performed correctly it will increase the risk of infection.

A major surgical system infrastructure needs to be developed. Who will fund this and how long will it take? Also, most health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa are in a shambles and ill-equipped to perform widespread male circumcision.

In addition, there’s also lack of social acceptability of circumcision in many of the sub-Saharan communities that have not traditionally practiced it. Besides the safety and acceptability issues, perhaps the greatest drawback is the financial means required to undertake circumcision whole scale.

Male circumcision will come with high costs through social mobilization efforts and upgrading of medical facilities. The more the men get circumcised, the more the success — and that’s tough ground. 

Imagine the social marketing message: If you’re a man, get cut today.