Casestudy: Florence Hagila

Women are very affected because they do not have any power within society. Men can infect more women, because they can propose to more than one woman

Florence is forty. She is married with seven children, four of whom are married, two have just finished school, and one is still in school. She herself left school in Grade 10. She also has three dependents, all of whom are orphans because their parents died from HIV related illnesses. She is a farmer growing tomatoes, maize, ground nuts and sweet potatoes. She is the local chairperson of SWAAZ in her village Mulendi, volunteers at the local health centre and visits the local community areas. She instructs people on how to use things like mosquito nets and on personal hygiene and family planning. She gets condoms from the health centre and distributes them in the communities she visits.

One of Florence's main problems with the distribution of condoms was that when she gave them to women, their husbands refused to use them because they said that sex is not good when using a condom. So Florence changed her strategy. She decided to start distributing female condoms to the women instead and instructs them to put them in before the husbands get home, and then they will not notice it. Florence is not a shy person, so it is easy for her to talk about condoms, despite the fact that many people think it is still taboo for a woman to discuss this. She says that although some people may be HIV positive, they still have sexual feelings. She encourages them to use protection to stop further spread and re-infection. She feels that she is making progress because people are more open to talking about and using condoms. Some people still have reservations, but things are changing. She has been directly affected herself by HIV because she has lost a number of family members to the disease, and cares for a number of orphans.

Florence feels that as so many people are infected, she is not sure if it is men or women who are most affected. What is important to her is the need to use condoms and to go for VCT. Women are the most significantly affected because they care most for those who are infected, and caring for orphans usually falls on them. Because women stay at home, not many of them have access to adequate information about ARVs and so on. They see their husbands taking drugs, but they do not know what they are.

Women are also very affected because they do not have any power within society. Men can infect more women, because they can propose to more than one woman.

The reason Florence went for a test was that she was involved with DAPP and they encouraged her to go for VCT. She was very scared, but she asked her husband to go with her so they could go together and find out together. They went as a couple in 2009 and in 2010 and both tested negative.

Florence received training from the Rural Health Centre where she volunteers and where she focuses on VCT especially for couples. She remembers one couple where the man was positive and the woman was negative, and she counselled them on how to have safe sex and look after one another. This is typical of her work.

She became involved as a result of listening to a radio programme one day where a nun spoke about HIV and Florence realised that within her community, people did not have this information. She felt compelled to do something for her community, so she went to the Rural Health Centre and became a volunteer. She also helps set up support groups to work alongside the Health Centre. That was some two years ago and there are now are now nine support groups within the area covered by the Mulendi Neighbourhood Health Centre.

Florence visits people who are sick and who are taking ARVs. She goes to their house and helps them with some cleaning and collecting of fire wood, depending on how well that person is. She and the other volunteers offer advice and encourage people to socialise and not lock themselves away and get depressed. Sometimes they also cook for them.

The world is cruel sometimes and that HIV and AIDS are not curable, but that it is not the end of your life. People can still have negative children if they are positive, so long as they find out how to protect their child, and follow the instructions they are given. I feel sad and angry about people who deliberately infect others.

Despite her religious beliefs, Florence promotes the use of condoms. If people do not use condoms they will become infected and die, then there will be no one left to go to church. They are better off going to church alive and using condoms.