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HEALTH-ZIMBABWE: Living with AIDS the Esther Guzha Story.*


HARARE, Jun 22 (IPS) - The life story of Esther Guzha is awe inspiring. She is 36 years old and has been living with AIDS for more than 13 years.

Speaking to this delightful woman reveals how a woman can break away from the confines of culture and rejection, even when experiencing intensive abuse from her husband's family and establish her own life.

Guzha first knew of her HIV positive status in 1988. "My second child passed away. That's how I knew and then I started dying slowly. I didn't know what being HIV positive meant so I was just waiting to die," she recalls and manages a dry laugh in an interview.

She traces the disease she now battles directly to her ex- husband. "I was married a virgin to the one and only man I have ever known who is now my ex-husband," she reveals before breaking into embarrassed laughter.

Fearing rejection by her family, she did not tell anybody except her husband. That's when much her suffering began. "My husband denied it and abandoned me and went to stay in a different town. Later on he admitted that he did not know that he was HIV positive."

"My husband used to work at a mine in South Africa" where he apparently became infected. Now he is self-employed.

Sadly, her 43 year-old husband has since re-married. "Last year he married a 17 year-old girl. The young girl does not know the condition of my ex-husband." Guzha said that her 16 year old son, who was born before she was infected with the disease, �went and told the new wife that his father was HIV positive but she dismissed him saying he was doing it because I was jealous of her.."

"In February this year, they had a baby girl," says Guzha before taking a long glance into empty space. "I meet with a lot similar stories. A lot." "My husband knows his condition. He knows he should change but he won't. It pains me," she says before wiping her eyes which at this stage appear to be filling with tears.

Guzha comes across these similar stories in her new and demanding life as an HIV/AIDS counsellor at 'The Centre' an organisation which deals with HIV/AIDS and supportive counselling of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Centre was started in 1992 as a support group and became fully operational as a counselling centre in 1996. Guzha joined in 1993.

A typical day for Guzha starts very early in the morning taking vitamin supplements. "I can't afford anti-retrovirals. In Zimbabwe, they are unaffordable and unavailable."

Her work at The Centre begins at 8 am. When she gets to the office, there are usually people already waiting to be counselled. "Most of these are walk-ins although we emphasise that people make appointments."

On any day she does not counsel more than four people. " I am very tired by five o'clock. I go home to rest and prepare for the next day."

Most of the people visiting the centre, says Guzha, are women aged between 17 and 50 years old. "But recently we have been having children below the age of 10 years. They come in with their parents."

"More than two-thirds of our clients are females," explains Guzha sadly. "It's not because women are more infected but women tend to accept reality far much better than men. Men are not forthcoming and as such women live longer with the disease than men."

"Most women live longer because they are attached to their children. They are determined to live positively rather than wait to die," she says. What particularly pains Guzha is that more than three quarters of the women seeking help at her organisation are married women who got HIV from their husbands in marriage.

It also pains her that she cannot do anything ensuring that men like her ex-husband get treatment because Zimbabwean law makes it a criminal offence to disclose the HIV status of someone without their consent.

Guzha turns cheerful. In fact she is laughing all the time during this interview. Her daily life epitomises how people living with HIV/AIDS can make a fresh life.

She talks about her 16 year old son and their relationship. 'He is very supportive but he would prefer it if we were in a proper family set up where there is a father in the house. He goes now and again to see his father."

"The depressing part is that my son blames me for the break-up with my husband. My ex-husband has been trying to get back with me. But he has a new wife and I am not prepared for that. He wants to have two wives," says Guzha.

It was during the painful times when Guzha was bed-ridden that her husband deserted her.

"When my health improved in 1995, he came back. We stayed together up to 1997. For much of 1997, we were on and off and this time I am not prepared to have him back. Now, he has gone too far."

Looking at Guzha, there are none of the stereotype symptoms of some living with HIV. Responding to an observation in the interview that she looks like any other person' she fixes her eyes on the reporter and says: "I am like any other person."

"Some people even say I am not HIV positive but just after the money. My relatives tell me that too."

But is she bitter about her husband? "Yes," she says and takes a long pause. "At first I was but after counselling, I realised it was no use. I don't hate him now. But he cannot be my husband again. I actually feel sorry for him. I think he doesn't realise how terrible what he is doing is."

Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of infection in the world, with one four people believed to living with the virus. Zimbabwe's health minister, Timothy Stamps says last year more than 100,000 died from AIDS- related deaths in the country. (END/IPS/HE/lm/cr/01)

* Editors Advisory. This is one in a series of IPS features previewing the United Nations Special Session on AIDS, to be held in New York June 25-27.. It is the first-ever Special Session devoted to a single disease.


Copyright © 2001 -Inter Press Service, Publisher. All rights reserved to Inter Press Service. Reproduced with permission.Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the Inter Press Service, IPS-ONLINE, World Desk via Panisperna 207 00184 Rome, Italy. Email IPS visit Inter Press Service.

Information in this article was accurate in June 22, 2001. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.