IF you drive through Zimbabwe on a typical Saturday or Sunday, you will see many places of religious worship. Some are static structures, while others are mobile. Some services are held under trees or in open spaces.
Many people in Zimbabwe follow a religious faith. The Apostolic community is a major religious sect that discouraged its members from seeking medical care, including HIV services, preferring to use prayer for healing―this led to many people becoming ill and dying from preventable diseases. However, with the implementation of so-called health kiosks, the community is now encouraging its members to access medical care.
David Adashe (not his real name), an Apostolic leader in Gokwe North, explained that health kiosks staffed by church volunteers trained by the Zimbabwe health ministry helped his congregation to access much needed information on HIV prevention. He described it as like, “Going from a thick cloud of darkness into a plane of light of splendour.”
Mr Adashe said that his congregation’s views about seeking medical assistance from health facilities have changed. They now seek out medical care, receive counselling from trained volunteers and are referred to a health facility for additional services, if needed. “I was naive and reluctant to take health issues seriously, but since the emergence of the health kiosk programme, I am now more empowered. I’m now encouraging my family to access health services from the clinic,” he said.
Since March 2018, World Vision Zimbabwe, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, has been empowering faith leaders like Mr Adashe and church volunteers through training and creating safe spaces to bring health information and services to their congregations.
A health kiosk volunteer in Gwanda said, “As a volunteer, I observed that previously it was difficult for some individuals to travel to the local clinic on their own to seek medical advice, but since the programme started it is easy now, since they can access the information on their doorstep through the health kiosks.”
Many faith worship centres participating in the health kiosk programme have seen a threefold increase in the uptake of HIV and health information. Half of the people requesting information on HIV take an HIV test and receive their results. People who test positive for HIV are referred for antiretroviral therapy and supported to stay in care through the help of the trained church volunteers.
Faith leaders and church volunteers are essential in controlling the HIV epidemic. They provide care for their members, create safe space for information-sharing and are trusted by their members. Regular contact with the congregations enables the volunteers to bridge the gap in services for those who need them the most. The health kiosks also serve as effective and sustainable platforms to bring together both faith and non-faith communities to address the health needs of their members and to provide safe spaces to engage on other health matters.
“The findings from the health kiosk programme are promising for addressing the HIV epidemic. This is a key example of community-led responses by, for and within faith communities providing safe spaces and support for their members. These kinds of responses are essential for ending new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths and critical for reaching universal health coverage,” said Laurel Sprague, Chief of the UNAIDS Community Mobilization, Community Support, Social Justice and Inclusion Department.