Passion-driven journey to end new HIV infections in Bubi
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zimbabwe
Being an inspiration and pillar of strength and hope had always been her childhood dream. Now in her twenties, Biolah is fast seeing her childhood dream come to life as she currently works as a district mentor, empowering the lives of hundreds of adolescent girls and young women at Inyathi Growth Point in Bubi district.
The district, which borders Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, is largely a mining area, and prone to many HIV high risk activities. According to the Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA) 2020, 5.7 percent of adolescent girls and young women aged, 15 – 24 are living with HIV in Bubi, making Biolah’s daily efforts an essential service in the community.
Starting each morning with her daily rituals that include a quick prayer, a sneak peek at urgent emails, and preparing a small lunchbox of her favorite snack to carry to work – as it is a cheaper option than buying lunch at the local shops – Biolah walks to work with earphones plugged in, listening to traditional Catholic songs, as she emotionally prepares herself for the day ahead.
“Girls in my community listen to me. I share with them my life story and how I have made it to where I am today,” said Biolah.
Her story is that of determination and she encourages her peers to look beyond their current challenges and limitations. She tackles the topical issues of early pregnancies and the temptation to live an ‘easy’ life which makes girls vulnerable to HIV in Bubi.
“For me, self-motivation really worked. Even when I had a child whilst still in college, I still told myself that I want to achieve my dreams. You know when you fall pregnant in college, people tend to discriminate you,” said Biolah.
“I was determined that I will get my degree and I did graduate with an Honors Degree in Theology. Yes, I have a child, but I can still advocate for adolescent girls’ rights. I can still motivate them. I can still mentor them so that they can do better than what I did,” narrated Biolah. “Girls are very vulnerable, especially if they are coming from poor families, which results in them being with sugar daddies and going to the bars,” added Biolah.
She empowers her peers through daily, door-to-door, home visits and community group discussions. Biolah is part of the dynamic DREAMS program, which is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zimbabwe through funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). DREAMS is an acronym which stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe. The program is a client-centered initiative, targeting adolescent girls and young women to reduce chances of them getting HIV infected.
The CDC, through its partners in the Zimbabwe Partnership to Accelerate AIDS Control (ZimPAAC) consortium, provides support to adolescent girls and young women to remain in school; to have skills to run income generating projects; to have increased access to male and female condoms; to access adolescent-friendly HIV testing services; pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for those at increased risk of HIV; sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning; and sexual and gender-based violence prevention and support services.
“It’s key to our mission in Zimbabwe and partnership with the government to support communities and safeguard the most vulnerable, particularly the adolescent girls and young women”, said Dr. Michael Melchior, CDC Zimbabwe Country Director.
“I am pleased that, so far, we have put in place structures and systems that work and enough resources to ensure that districts, like Bubi and the country at large, are on track to achieve epidemic control in line with the UNAIDS fast-track targets of ending AIDS by 2030” added Melchior.
Biolah champions the cause of young women in her community. Daily, she shares her amazing story of hope and determination and through that is helping other girls in making positive decisions in their lives.
With the dream now of attaining a Master’s in Public Health degree, Biolah is positioning herself to reach an even greater number of adolescent girls and young women at national scale. She strongly believes that there is so much work that needs to be done in empowering girls and making their dreams come true.
With the increase in new HIV infections in some geographic pockets across the country, particularly among the adolescent girls and young women, the illustrious community work by selfless people, like Biolah, will certainly contribute towards a determined, resilient, mentored, AIDS-free and safe generation. As CDC commits to continue supporting such initiatives, Zimbabwe is well in position to end AIDS by 2030.