TO HELL WITH AIDS
By Express Team
Bonifasia Mbawala, a waitress at Container bar in Kibaha knows all about HIV/Aids. It is hard not to know, she says with messages being bombarded each minute from literally everywhere. Billboards, television, magazines, radio, newspapers, everywhere one turns, the threat of death via HIV is but too obvious.
She says she has the basic knowledge of how HIV/AIDS is transmitted – through heterosex. But she still practices unsafe sex as a sex worker. The reason is very simple. She needs the money to survive.
“Before going with a man an agreement is reached of using a condom, but before sexual intercourse a man might refuse to wear a condomÖ If I go with a man and he refuses to use a condom, I sometimes leave each and everything to God because at that time I feel that a man with all his masculinity, I am helpless,” she told The Express.
Mbawala is by no means alone in the business. Aisha Halidi, a waitress at Free pub in Mbagala said she too is aware that HIV/AIDS is there although she said the knowledge is just a basic one such as the need to use condoms during sex. However, because of the meagre income, she is sometimes obliged to go with men even if they refuse to use a condom, she revealed.
Sara, a sex worker who waylaids her prey around Kinondoni, too has complete access to information regarding HIV/AIDS on billboards, radios, TV channels and in newspapers but she is still in the business.
“There is much information everywhere reminding us of the danger but we cannot stop because we are in this business to make a living.
“Yes, it kills but we play a game of chance. You may go with somebody without it or with it, you cannot know. But you have to do it in a order to earn a living,” she said.
She said men who prefer unprotected sex offer more than those using condoms do. The negotiable price ranges between Tsh. 5,000 and 50,000 depending on the duration of the game.
“I don’t like prostitution but I am forced to do it to increase my income, As a maid I only get Tsh 30,000. That is not enough for my expenses,” Pili, a barmaid at Safari bar in Mbezi told The Express.
“I am very aware of AIDS, there is no way I can go without condoms. Whoever I go with I use protection, but sometimes the client forces you to go without, I have faced such situations,” she added.
A prostitute identified as Irene caught at Magomeni said she too is forced to be in the sex business because of hardship. “I use the money for food and rent and to provided for my mother ” she said.
The strategy to fight the pandemic and the millions of shillings thrown into them is nothing but a waste, Tanzanians said in a survey conducted by The Express during the World Aids Day Monday this week.
Much of the resources directed to fight HIV/AIDS in Tanzania is used on awareness campaigns but the method is not self-fulfilling and more is needed.
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While people in urban areas are over sensitised to the point of becoming insensitive, vital messages are not reaching rural areas. Even in urban areas, small focused groups keep getting the same messages again and again, the survey revealed, while others not exposed to a liberal society remain ignorant, with fatal results.
“Forget about rural areas, here in Dar only there are those who believe Aids is rich people’s disease. They strongly believe it cannot touch them. True, they do not have the money to engage in risky attitudes where they can contract HIV but we live in closed communities. Interaction between people at all level happens and many contract Aids not because they themselves play around but because they get it from their unfaithful partners,” one community elder in Mbagala, Dar told The Express.
Most organisations involved in the war against HIV/AIDS have formed their fronts in hotels, where brainstorming, workshops, seminars, presentations and assessments take place – all aimed at fighting AIDS, but to date statistics show no improvement in the fight.
There is no concrete information available as to how much is spent annually on the war against AIDS but most money is spent on awareness campaigns.
And sensitising people alone is not working as per the sex workers interviewed. Being the group of people at high risk of being infected with the epidemic than any other group, complete access to awareness and information has had no impact on their behaviour.
Multiple approaches including empowering sex victims is what is needed, some claim. UNAIDS Director General Peter Piot, when talking on BBC’s Talking Point programme recently said: “Information isn’t everything, it is important to support people living with HIV to come out, provide safe space, it’s important that they go and talk in schools, on the radio and the TV” but it is not enough.
There should be incentives to encourage people to come out and test, other respondents said. Uganda, which is cited as a success story, has created The AIDS Support Organisations (TASO) centres where victims gather to get some drugs and food.
A lot of fund has been made available for HIV especially in Africa and donors have agreed to offer even more support.
The US government is set to approve US $2.4 billion to support some developing countries fight the scourge.
And the UNAIDS wants US $10 billion spent in 2005 and another US $15 billion spent in 2007.
But Tanzanians are very skeptical of these funds benefiting the nation fight the pandemic.
“Tanzania is one of the beneficiaries and therefore sound policies and strategies should be devised now in order to spend the upcoming cash in a manner that will lead to attainment of the objectives,” Albert Muhango said.
The problem for funders is that they cannot stop funds since there is an obvious need for money to save African nations from perishing but so far, in Tanzania, for example, the money has not changes grim statistics.
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Dr. Elly Ndyetabula of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Poverty and Gender said UNDP provides funding for HIV/AIDS programmes but it cannot work single handedly to achieve the objective without making use of a network.
“We provide financial support and technical capacity but we need close collaboration with other plays particularly those who can go to the grassroots levels to make the message go across as we don’t have the capability of going all the way down single-handedly,” he said.
He said, presently, UNDP is working with village governments, local governments, civil society who can deliver the education on HIV/AIDS, adding that the most important is for all players to ensure that financial support provided goes down to the grassroots’ level.
But religious leaders maintain that the reason all the campaigns are failing is the fact that people are being confused by the promotion of condoms.
Father Stephane Kaombe of catholic church who has written extensively on AIDS is adamant that the war against HIV infections would not be successful with on going promotions of condoms because that prompts adultery and promiscuity that contrive the scriptures.
“We should stop sensitising people that they should use protection if they fail to abstain.” He questioned why the thought of failing from abstinence is even raised. “Even when President Nyerere declared a war against Idd Amin he said we have the ability to fight the enemy, therefore we should also confront HIV. The fight must involve people in the village. Transparency does not mean to advocate the use of condoms,” he said.
Sheikh Suleiman Gorogosi, of Bakwata also re-enforced that the Islamic faith does not promote the use of condoms or safe sex, people must wait until marriage.
He said Bakwata gives priority to educating the society on dangers of AIDS.