“We are not different from any community, I have good friends and bad friends. It is up to me to take the good advice and ignore bad influences,” these words of wisdom came from Mazvita DeSouza, a trans woman.
DeSouza lives in Mutapa, a high density suburb in Gweru.
The Community Led Monitoring team was in Gweru documenting access to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.
DeSouza says she has not been stigmatized nor discriminated against by society or by family members. She said family accepted who she is from a tender age.
DeSouza lost parents when young and grew up in the care of loving elder brothers.
“My brothers know of my status. I guess they knew seeing me growing up, I have never had any challenges with them questioning my sexual orientation. My community too has not discriminated against me,” said the soft-spoken DeSouza.
DeSouza is well versed with prevention and has used both condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
“I have always been careful, and I have used dual protection, PrEP, and condoms. I never took any risks,” said DeSouza.
Today, DeSouza is on antiretroviral therapy, ART.
What went wrong?
Like most partners, when a relationship lasts a year, one becomes complacent.
“I got into a stable relationship. I have been living with my partner for more than six years, and I trusted my partner. We would use protection intermittently,” said DeSouza.
“I would get tested for HIV every six months. In 2018, I tested HIV positive. I was concerned. I got home to inform my partner. He was not surprised at all. He said he was on treatment himself. I was not angry with him. The onus to protect myself was mine.
“We have remained committed to each other. We support each other on treatment. We are both on the first line treatment, and we are virally suppressed,” said DeSouza.
On being asked if the community knew that they were lovers or just thought they were males sharing accommodation, Mazvita said they knew.
“The community knows that we are lovers. They don’t have a problem with that,” she added.
DeSouza bemoans the rate of sero-conversion.
“I am concerned with the rate of sero-conversions. I wish couples used protection and PrEP religiously. If we want to end AIDS, we need zero new infections,” she concluded.
Cliff Chikukutu, a coordinator with Women of Africa Trust, notes the positive attitudes in the general populace of Gweru.
Community based organisations have been working very hard. We are one of them, as Women of Africa Trust, we envision a society where members of the lesban, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual (LGBTIQ) community have access to health and non-discriminative support services; social inclusion, economic transformation, political participation, cultural identity, sexual orientation, human rights and walk in their full potential,” said Chikukutu.
“Our activities encourage members to seek HIV clinical services, get screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) tuberculosis (TB), and access sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) services,” he said.
The organisation also offers skills training for members to run income generating projects.
“Besides the above, we offer safe spaces to those who are at risk. They offer each other mental health support. We are a resource center where they can access the internet,” said Chikukutu.
The sister-in-charge for Mtapa Poly Clinic, Esther Mawire, weighed in DeSouza’s testimony.
“We are sad to note that sero-conversion is happening in discordant couples. We try as much as possible to offer treatment literacy.
“However, that one infection in a discordant couple could be avoided if those on ART are virally suppressed. They again need to double up protection using the condoms, just in case the viral load goes up,” said Sister Mawire.
Mutapa Clinic was built in the 1940s, and we have space constraints to give safe spaces to all in need. We, however, try as much as possible to share the available space. Funds permitting, we would be glad to have two more outbuildings for key populations,” concluded Sister Mawire.