Stopping sexual violence key to help slow AIDS epidemic: Activist

Stopping sexual violence key to help slow AIDS epidemic: Activist

Protecting African women from sexual violence would help ease the spread of HIV/AIDS there, a Sudbury audience was told this week.

“We have high levels of violence against women in Zimbabwe,” Netty Musanhu’ (correct spelling with apostrophe), the executive director of the Musasa Project, based in Harare, said in an interview.

She said around one in six women in Zimbabwe has been raped in her lifetime.

Women in Zimbabwe also have a high HIV infection rate, which is often linked back to sexual violence. Musanhu’ said preventing gender-based violence would also slow the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“We know our experiences and we are here to share those experiences,” Musanhu’ said. “We are the face of HIV and gender-based violence.”

Musanhu’ and Wairimu Mungai, the founder and executive director of WEM Integrated Health Services, based in Nairobi, Kenya, were in Sudbury as part of the Solidarity Tour, which is making its way across Canada.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation, which has worked with grassroots organizations to help combat the HIV pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2003, has organized the tour to get HIV/AIDS in Africa back on the Canadian agenda.

Around 1.2 million people in Zimbabwe have HIV/AIDS and only about half have access to treatment.

There are 34 million people in the world who have HIV/AIDS and 24 million of them are in Africa. While the disease can be managed with new antiretroviral drugs, many Africans still do not have access to the lifesaving medication.

Mungai has shared her experiences as a frontline worker with Canadians. Mungai’s organization provides holistic care to people who carry the AIDS virus and also teaches their families how to care for loved ones who have been affected by the pandemic.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation works in collaboration with WEM Integrated Health Services and provides funding so it can achieve its goals. It has focused its efforts to work with African organizations that have women in leadership roles.

“Prevention and treatment are important, but continued care, to ensure those who are affected can come back into the mainstream, is very important,” Mungai said.

Mungai said accessibility to life-saving drugs in Kenya is not adequate. She has come to Canada to share her perspective on the realities in her country.

Joe Cressy, director of campaign and community outreach, Stephen Lewis Foundation, said the organization has worked to connect Canadian grandmothers with African grandmothers, who are often the last remaining caregivers for children who have been orphaned due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The foundation has raised $18 million for that campaign and has funded more than 700 grassroots initiatives in 15 African countries.

Mungai and Musanhu’ shared their stories at the OPSEU Union Hall in Sudbury. They will continue to tour a number of Ontarian cities and will end the tour in Windsor on Tuesday.

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