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New dawn of hope for HIV help in Zimbabwe

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In Mufakose on the outskirts of Harare, burnt out cars lay abandoned, children run barefoot, refuse litters the streets and women sit patiently in the hope of selling a few tomatoes.

There is little to distinguish Mufakose from other high-density areas in Zimbabwe. Yet unlike other suburbs, this community has a small but determined army of women wearing immaculate pink uniforms on an important mission! They are volunteer caregivers for the community-based organisation New Dawn of Hope.

The organisation is part of the second phase of DFID's Protracted Relief Programme.. Started last year, the =A355 million project includes 24 local and international partners aiming to reach over two million vulnerable people by 2011. Other donors, including Australia, Norway, Holland, Denmark and the European Commission, are bringing additional resources.

Rapid growth

Founded in 2003 by five HIV sufferers, New Dawn of Hope provides support to others affected by the virus.

After rapid growth, New Dawn now runs an in-house care service for households including people with critical illness such as HIV, AIDS and TB along with the elderly, widows and orphans. "Currently we have 156 volunteers, and as of February, they were visiting 450 clients. Thirty per cent of our volunteers are HIV positive," explains Jayne, one of the founders.

When asked what motivates them to give up their time, the women's answers vary.

"The help I received from other volunteers when my child became sick and later died was so precious to me that I wanted to join them as a way of saying thank you. I couldn't imagine someone being left alone to suffer," says 55-year-old Rachel.

Another volunteer says, "I joined because I wanted to help others and receive training. What I learned gave me the confidence to get tested and since getting treatment I feel much healthier and able to work."

A typical day in the life of a volunteer starts at 9am with quiet meditation. Then there is a quick look at the duty roster to check which households need visiting and then it is off to work. Duties can involve anything from washing and feeding elderly or sick clients to providing information on hygiene, nutrition or training on looking after vegetable gardens.During the cholera crisis, these volunteers became vital sources of information and help to people otherwise out of reach.

A volunteer explains: "At first I was afraid to visit where clients were vomiting or had diarrhea. But we received training on prevention, identifying the symptoms and how the protect ourselves which gave me courage. Now we are providing information to the community, referring suspected cases to hospitals and ensuring that they receive water purification tablets, re-hydration salts, cotton wall, soap and jerry cans."

Support to community-based organizations like New Dawn of Hope helps ensure the emergence of informed, self-reliant communities able to cope better with challenges like cholera. The hope is that one day - when the country's health and water systems are fully restored - no-one in Zimbabwe need die of an easily preventable disease.

Facts and stats

- During the recent cholera crisis which ended in July, DFID provided an overall package of =A310 million of life-saving support: =A32 million to UNICEF for water and sanitation; =A31 million to WHO to support treatment quality and the Cholera Command and Control Centre; =A3500,000 to existing NGO partners to refocus their support; =A36 million for medicines and supplies; and =A3500,000 for a retention scheme for city health workers.

- Root causes such as water shortages, bad sanitation and substandard health networks, still need to be addressed. DFID, other donors and the United Nations, are now preparing to combat cholera's likely return when the rainy season returns. We are providing non-food-Items, supporting hygiene promotion practices and investing in both urban and rural water system rehabilitation.

- Zimbabwe's HIV prevalence is one of the highest in the world at 15.6%. According to estimates, approximately 2,300 people die per week due to HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

- DFID is providing nearly =A340 million over the next five years in support of HIV and AIDS programmes focusing on behaviour change and access to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART).