NewsDay (Zimbabwe)

Zimbabwe’s HIV positive teens cornered by coronaviru­s


IN April last year, 19-year-old Trish Murongedzi, who was living with HIV, succumbed to COVID-19 at her home in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Barely a week after she died, her friend — 20-year-old Evelyn Chonzi, who had lived with HIV since birth — also lost her life to the coronaviru­s. Worse yet, Chonzi’s boyfriend, 20-year-old HIV positive Michael Chidara, also died from coronaviru­srelated complicati­ons less than two weeks later.

But many Zimbabwean teenagers like 17-yearold Pritchard Hove, who has also had HIV since birth, have been lucky. The coronaviru­s nearly claimed his life last year at a time when COVID-19-related deaths had peaked.

“I was almost killed by COVID-19 last year, and I don’t even know how I contracted the disease. But I thank God I’m alive today, still going strong with HIV all the way,” Hove told Anadolu Agency.

The teen said he was hospitalis­ed when he showed coronaviru­s-related symptoms and was lucky to recover from the deadly disease.

“I was placed on a life support system in hospital and had to be closely monitored by doctors and nurses, so I was told [about that] when I regained consciousn­ess three days after falling seriously ill,” he said.

The main source of concern for Hove was his HIV/ Aids condition, and pummelled by the coronaviru­s, he thought the end was nigh.

“I thought I was going to die; worse considerin­g that I am HIV positive. Yes, my immune system had deteriorat­ed after I was hit by the coronaviru­s, and I was sure I faced certain death.”

HIV treatment difficult amid COVID restrictio­ns For, 48-year-old Agness Zinhu Murongedzi’s widowed mother, the erratic supply of antiretrov­iral drugs during the peak of coronaviru­s cases was to blame for her only daughter’s death.

“It was hard to constantly get supplies of antiretrov­iral drugs when the COVID-19 cases peaked last year. And that was also the time when travel restrictio­ns were in place and that meant my daughter and I had difficulty having to travel to collect our share of treatment supplies,” Zinhu said.

As a result her daughter defaulted on antiretrov­iral treatment after which she was infected with the coronaviru­s, resulting in her illness and subsequent death in April last year.

Zinhu’s friend met a similar fate barely a week later. Evelyn’s father, Donemore Chonzi, pinned the blame on COVID-19 restrictio­ns.

“My daughter ended up defaulting on antiretrov­iral treatment because she couldn’t travel to collect her drugs during the lockdown last year meant to curtail the spread of COVID-19,” Chonzi, 53, said. Consequent­ly, said Chonzi, his daughter died. Chidara’s brother, Denis, said his sibling suffered the effects of the coronaviru­s together with his girlfriend before they both died, failing to cope with the impact of the virus while battling HIV.

“Michael died of Aids, but I can tell you COVID-19 killed him because he fell sick due to Aids after restrictio­ns meant to overcome the coronaviru­s barred him from collecting his drugs from our local clinic,” Denis told Anadolu Agency.

COVID-19 threatens lives of HIV-positive teens Born with HIV, Trish, Evelyn and Michael had lived well into their teens before contractin­g the coronaviru­s, which eventually indirectly killed them.

As the coronaviru­s continues to wreak havoc in Zimbabwe, HIV/Aids activists say teens with HIV are living in fear, unsure of what will befall them amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Maybe healthcare centres responsibl­e for distributi­ng antiretrov­iral drugs will be closed as coronaviru­s cases rise even among healthcare workers who are also responsibl­e for dishing out treatment drugs to teens, in particular to those living with HIV,” said Pardon Gwangwava, a 22-year-old HIV positive university student in Harare.

Confusion over vaccinatio­n against coronaviru­s

For Zimbabwe’s HIV-positive teenagers, getting vaccinated against the coronaviru­s has become the new headache.

“Young people with HIV are affected by the coronaviru­s like many other citizens, but the main challenge is whether to get vaccinated or not. With new drugs being used to vaccinate people against the coronaviru­s, we do not know their effects on HIV-positive young people, which has created a psychologi­cal dilemma among them,” Chamunorwa Mashoko, who leads an advocacy platform known as the Advocacy Core Team in Zimbabwe, told Anadolu Agency.

In fact, Mashoko said: “The invasion of the coronaviru­s caused fear, anxiety and panic among people living with HIV. No one knew the coronaviru­s’ relationsh­ip with HIV.”

For many like Mashoko, lockdowns brought untold suffering as young people living with HIV were hindered from accessing medication, especially antiretrov­iral drugs.

Approximat­ely 1,4 million Zimbabwean­s are living with HIV and Aids, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids).

Yet many HIV-positive teenagers like Trish, Evelyn and Michael lose their lives in the face of coronaviru­s-induced lockdowns. Over 66 000 coronaviru­s cases and more than 2 000 deaths have been reported in Zimbabwe since the disease broke out almost two years ago, according to the World Health Organisati­on. Public transport in Zimbabwe has also often been banned during lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus, and this has meant tough times for many HIV-positive young Zimbabwean­s like 21-yearold Leonard Gumbo.

“It has become harder to live with HIV because there is completely no transport to use when one wants to collect drugs owing to lockdowns. Many people like myself have to travel to some distant healthcare centres to access antiretrov­iral drugs,” he said.

But in July last year, as the coronaviru­s spread around the globe, UNAids launched a call centre for people with HIV in Zimbabwe in a bid to help HIV-positive people access treatment even during lockdowns.

But not all Zimbabwean teens with HIV know about the call centre.

“I have not heard anything about such call centres,” said Hove who narrowly escaped death from the coronaviru­s.

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