To improve housing and living conditions within the Mwanza region, MRHP recognised the need to address the health of the community and in particular the issues surrounding the spread of HIV/AIDS, in an area where it has been estimated that as much as 10% of the population is affected. An integral part of the ‘Missungwi Grain Legume Project’ sponsored by Bread for the World and Catholic Relief Services, is therefore devoted to improving the health of participating villages, through nutritional information, hygiene education, and HIV/AIDS sensitisation, prevention and control. This project has been running since 2007.
HIV/AIDS continues to have a devastating effect on life in rural communities, yet the stigma attached to the condition means that many people in rural areas have little knowledge about the causes, prevention and control of the disease. Sufferers are reluctant to admit they have the condition, as they are afraid of the attitude of the community, which can range from lack of medical care and community services to complete isolation and ostracisation for the sufferer and his or her family.
As part of the village outreach services undertaken for this project an MRHP HIV/AIDS specialist visits the participating villages to educate the community on the causes, control and prevention of the condition. Having had many of the facts about HIV/AIDS explained to them, villagers are keen to participate in forming groups of ‘peer educators’, who pass this knowledge on to their peer group – teenagers, young people, often men and women separately. The education takes a number of different forms, with plays and singing being particular effective, so MRHP initiate choirs and drama groups in the villages to sensitise the community to change their sexual behaviour and to adopt a different attitude to those affected by HIV/AIDS.
MRHP is very proud of the result of its campaign against the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS in the project area, as more people are prepared to come forward w to identify their HIV/ AIDS status. In association with local government health officers, community members are offered voluntary testing and counselling, and MRHP instigate support groups of HIV positive people, encouraging them to talk about their condition. In order to assist their bodies fight the disease without drugs, which are hard to obtain and beyond the means of many villagers, they are taught important aspects of nutrition and personal hygiene.