Felix Mwanza advocate for access to treatment

FelixIn Zambia, Felix Mwanza is a well-known HIV and AIDS activist, advocating for equitable, affordable and sustainable access to treatment, care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS in the country. During the 10th Anniversary Conference held by the Swedish Workplace HIV and AIDS Programme, he gave a moving and inspiring testimony of how he became an advocate. His story is one that highlights personal leadership, passion and the importance of a good support structure when dealing with HIV diagnosis.

My task is to give HIV and AIDS a human face. I liken my situation when I found out about my status to what is happening with Ebola, there was no treatment, no one to take care of the sick and a lot of stigma. My CD4 count was a single digit at the time of my diagnosis. I was afraid to tell my wife, until she told me she just wanted to know what was wrong with me. I asked if she was prepared for HIV testing, to which she responded, yes. 

A positive diagnosis can be a nightmare if the spouse or partner is not supportive. In fact I managed to pull through because I had a very supportive wife and my family was also on hand to help me out. It is very important for couples to participate in couples counselling as it allays fears and subsequent backlash and misunderstanding that may ensue after a positive diagnosis.  Suffice to say, women are more understanding if their husbands are found to be HIV positive first, but in most cases it is complete opposite if the woman tests HIV positive first. I was lucky that my wife did not abandon me.

The physician who diagnosed me at the time told me that treatment was expensive and not sustainable. At ZWM 286 per month(about USD 48) the cost was beyond the reach of many. My uncle bought the expensive medication before I got back on my feet and started purchasing the drugs on my own.  I made the decision to leave my job as a software engineer in order to join the advocacy movement. I wanted to provide leadership so that each and every person living with HIV could feel special. After reading a story in news magazine on People Living with HIV (PLWH), I volunteered to be part of a PLWH group.

Felix Mwanza is now the Director of the Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC) based in Lusaka, with over 100 affiliates throughout the country. TALC works with nongovernmental, faith and community-based organisations focusing the nation’s attention on the plight of PLWH. Zambia has a generalised epidemic mainly driven by unprotected heterosexual activity. TALC advocates for behaviour change sensitising communities on the importance of having one partner and using condoms.

Felix is an example of personal leadership in health and strongly believes in the importance of everyone playing their part. When the existence of the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was threatened in 2008, Felix wrote a letter to President Obama petitioning for the continuation of the commitment to support HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and care programmes in developing countries, as stopping it would have meant a death sentence for many people, himself included.

He encourages others to be responsible citizens. I am a global activist, I contribute to the national development of this country, through paying my taxes.

Felix also highlights the important role workplaces can play in addressing HIV and AIDS.

Invest in workplace programmes. If I had died at the time I was diagnosed, my skills and expertise would have gone to waste. Investment in workplace programmes allows the retention in expertise ultimately improving productivity. There is a ripple effect, people you save through such programmes will also save other lives. My CD4 count is now above 1000. I have been on first line treatment for the last nine years. I shall continue to advocate for treatment and prevention strategies.

SWHAP has been working in partnership with four Zambian companies, Atlas Copco, SKF, Sandvik and Orica Mining Services, in the Copperbelt since 2005 and more recently with ABB, Bayport, Ericsson and Scania Hazida in Lusaka. In total over 6400 employees have been reached through the programme in Zambia, including companies participating in the Atlas Copco Supply Chain Programme.  The SWHAP Supply Chain Programme assists companies in mentoring their customers and supply chain in setting up and implementing HIV and AIDS programmes.

Drug resistant TB on the rise

A new report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has found that “Multidrug- resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is increasingly being found in patients with no history of TB treatment, indicating that the resistant strains of the disease are being transmitted from person to person” (www.msfaccess.org/outofstep). MDR-TB are new strains of the disease which are resistant to first line treatment. These strains usually develop as a consequence of mismanagement of TB treatment.

The World Health Organisation estimates that in 2013, 480,000 people worldwide developed MDR-TB with 9% of these cases being extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB). With MSF reporting cure rates of 56% for MDR-TB and only 27% for XDR-TB, these are worrying statistics. A new report by the organisation sheds light on implementation gaps in the current TB response.  The report identifies five gaps: in the diagnosis of drug-resistant TB, lack of prompt and correct treatment after diagnosis, limited access to new drugs, under funding of TB programmes and routine hospitalisation of TB patients as opposed to outpatient care which yields similar results and is more cost effective.

Addressing these gaps will help save many lives, particularly where HIV is increasing the susceptibility to infection. To read the MSF report, please follow the link “Out of Step”. You can also read about how SWHAP partners are addressing TB in the workplace here.

Lunch time discussion raising awareness on TB at Scania Botswana

Lunch time discussion raising awareness on TB at Scania Botswana

“Off to the right start” World Diabetes Day 2014

World Diabetes Day, commemorated on November 14 each year raises awareness on the disease that affects more than 340 million people worldwide. In 2012 an estimated 1.5 million deaths were attributed to diabetes, with 80% of deaths occurring in low-and middle-income countries (WHO). “An employee with a chronic illness such as diabetes can lose 3-4 months of work a year resulting in potential losses of 20-30% of their annual household income” (www.SAfAIDS.net). This also means reduced productivity in the workplace and additional health costs for employers.

IMG_3923Diabetes is caused by genetic factors or lifestyle choices that impact on the body’s ability to produce insulin or its ability to breakdown sugars.  Of the three types of diabetes, namely gestational diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, the latter is the most common accounting for 90-95% of all cases diagnosed (CDC). Type 2 diabetes develops over a long period of time and this is where workplace HIV and wellness programmes which provide screening can be useful in identifying employees at risk. Early screening and treatment helps to prevent complications associated with diabetes which include heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations and kidney failure.

“Healthy Living and Diabetes” is the World Diabetes theme for 2014-2016. This year the focus is on the importance of a healthy breakfast in addressing some of the causes of diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation “eating a healthy breakfast decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because skipping breakfast is associated with weight gain, one of the main risk factors of the disease.” A healthy diet consists of lean meat, fish, fruit, leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and is low in sugar, salts and fat. This is good advice for all employees as positive changes in nutrition assist in keeping the immune system healthy, prevents disease and benefits those affected by other non-communicable and communicable diseases including HIV.

Related articles

World Diabetes Day- 14 November 2014

Read more on diabetes:

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/

http://www.idf.org/wdd-index

Supporting Nutrition in the Workplace

Nutrition plays a major role in employee health, it can impact on blood pressure, cholesterol, digestion, some cancers and HIV.  Workplace programmes that promote healthy diets and improve access to food for employees are beneficial to employers and employees alike. Good nutrition in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle preserves health, improves quality of life and delays disease progression. This is good news for employers as healthy employees are more engaged, productive and demonstrate higher levels of commitment. Please follow the link to read about how SWHAP supported workplaces are contributing to improved nutrition amongst workers, their families and communities. Support to  nutrition in the workplace.

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Donations

2014 SWHAP Achievement Award Winners

Congratulations to the SWHAP Achievement Award winners. The winner of the Award for Most Comprehensive Programme 2014 was presented to Scania South Africa. Sodeico from DRC won the Award for Best Progress, Ulrich Seats South Africa won the category for Most Innovative Intervention and Sandvik Zimbabwe were presented with the Award for Best Supply Chain Programme. Peer Educator Achievement Awards were also presented to Lilian Motto from Tanzania, Boitshepo Balozwi from Botswana, Susan Musonda from Zambia, Diana Davids from Namibia, Sammy Mambo from Kenya and David Mandhlasi from South Africa.

Best Supply Chain Programme presented to Sandvik Zimbabwe

Most Innovative Intervention presented to Ulrich Seats from South Africa

Most Innovative Intervention presented to Ulrich Seats from South Africa

Best Progress presented to Sodeico from DRC

Best Progress presented to Sodeico from DRC

Most Comprehensive Programme presented to  Scania South Africa

Most Comprehensive Programme presented to Scania South Africa

 

Ebola

The current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa is the deadliest on record and has killed more people than the previous outbreaks combined. The high mortality of the virus is instilling fear in many populations in affected and neighbouring countries. Moreover myths and misconceptions about the virus are hampering effective response efforts.

SWHAP partners in East Africa and the DRC are conducting awareness sessions on Ebola. These sessions are highlighting in particular, how the virus is spread, symptoms of the virus and precautions that can be taken to prevent infection. The awareness sessions are complementary to government initiatives to sensitise their populations on Ebola and to provide credible sources of information relevant to local contexts.

Ebola sensitisation at DUX in DRC

Ebola sensitisation at DUX in DRC

The awareness sessions in the DRC are addressing the concerns of employees who travel to affected regions as part of their duties. Ericsson, a communications company in the DRC, is looking at ways in which it can enhance efforts to provide access to practical information, through available hotlines, regional newsletters and reinforcing hygienic practices in their working environment.  Additional efforts are being made to sensitise the private sector through the HIV business coalition and other actors.

The outbreak in the DRC is genetically unrelated to the strain currently circulating in West Africa. The DRC has been experienced seven Ebola outbreaks since 1976, when the virus was first discovered, and has developed successful strategies for the management and containment of the virus. These experiences are being shared with other African states.

Transmission and Symptoms

Ebola is “transmitted to people from infected wild animals and spreads in human populations through human to human transmission” (World Health Organisation). Transmission is through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids and objects such as needles which have been contaminated with infected body fluids. Symptoms of Ebola may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure. These symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.  A person is only infectious once symptoms start to show. At present there is no licenced vaccine or specific treatment and doctors can only treat the symptoms of the virus but not the virus itself. The World Health Organisation has however authorised experimental treatments and several vaccines are in the process of being tested. Family and friends or health care workers in close contact with Ebola patients are at highest risk of infection. Early screening has been shown to improve health outcomes.

Ebola Prevention

  • Practice careful hygiene. Avoid contact with blood and body fluids
  • Avoid handling items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids
  • Avoid funerals or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola
  • Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids and raw meat prepared from these animals
  • If you have travelled to an area with known Ebola cases, monitor your health for 21 days and seek immediate healthcare if you develop any of the symptoms of Ebola listed above.

Adapted from: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/prevention/index.html

As we have seen in the HIV response, providing accurate information is the first step in addressing the stigma and discrimination that affected populations’ experience. For more information on Ebola follow the link below.

http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/en/

United Nations Day 2014

SWHAP joins the world in celebrating United Nations Day. The 24th October is the anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), when the UN officially came into being. It is an important day for highlighting the aims and achievements of the UN and mobilising support for the important work the organisation carries out. The Swedish Workplace HIV and AIDS Programme (SWHAP) works in close cooperation with certain UN agencies such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in contributing to the response to HIV and AIDS through workplace programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. SWHAP provides support for HIV workplace programmes in over 290 workplaces in ten countries. Working in partnership with 116 companies and respective unions, workplace programmes are reaching out to employees, their families and vulnerable populations in the community. In doing so SWHAP strives to contribute to the achievement of the international development goals set by the UN, in particular Millennium Development Goal 6, “Combating HIV and AIDS, Malaria and other diseases”.

SWHAP is also part of the ILO’s Inter-Agency Task Team on HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy/ Programmes and Private Sector Engagement, and supports campaigns such as, “Getting to Zero at Work” and “VCT@Work”, an initiative to reach 5 million workers with voluntary HIV counselling and testing by 2015. As well as providing opportunities for testing, the initiative aims to ensure that those testing positive are referred to appropriate treatment, care and support services. SWHAP is recognised as one of the few programmes aligned to this approach and which incorporates the implementation of the ILO’s HIV and AIDS Recommendation (No. 200) in its model for workplace HIV and AIDS programmes. This Recommendation is the first international labour standard on HIV and AIDS in the world of work.

SWHAP in Kenya participating during the launch of VCT@Work in 2013

SWHAP in Kenya participating during the launch of VCT@Work in 2013

SWHAP in Zimbabwe partnered with the ILO at the Harare Agricultural Show promoting VCT@Work

SWHAP in Zimbabwe partnered with the ILO at the Harare Agricultural Show promoting VCT@Work

SWHAP 10th Anniversary Conference 2014

Today SWHAP welcomes over 170 delegates from 11 countries to the annual two day conference being held in Lusaka Zambia. The conference celebrates ten years of SWHAP and provides an opportunity to showcase various workplace programmes, and to explore the theme “Business efficiency and health: Creating Sustainable Wellness and HIV Programmes”.

This year’s keynote speaker will be the Honourable Dr Joseph Kasonde, the Zambian Minister of Health.  The annual SWHAP Achievement Awards will also be presented at a gala dinner on  October 22 officiated by the Ambassador of Sweden to Zambia, Mrs Lena Nordström.

The conference is taking place at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka from 22-23 October. The conference programme can be downloaded here: Conference Programme

SWHAP network events in South Africa

SWHAP has found networking events to be a relatively low cost means to maintaining momentum within the different key groups involved in the workplace programmes. SWHAP routinely organises network meetings for key stakeholders such as Peer Educators, CEOs, union representatives and occupational health practitioners providing opportunities for training and exchange of experiences.

Occupational Health Practitioners

Occupational Health Practitioners can experience stress as a result of their jobs. They can very easily take on the burdens of their colleagues leaving them feeling overwhelmed, burdened and burnt out.  Ten Occupational Health Practitioners from six companies had the opportunity to attend a debriefing session where they were trained on understanding the importance of a healthy work-life balance and developing a personal care plan.

Champions

The Champions networking workshop was held on June 26th, with a focus on the Human Sciences Research Council’s South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour  Survey, 2012. The objectives of the workshop were to help participants to identify the prevalence and incidence of HIV infection in South Africa in relation to social and behavioural determinants and to develop workplace programmes that are responsive to the outcomes of the Survey in line with the current National Strategic Plan 2012-2016.

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Participants at the Champions networking workshop