Science - October 2, 2008

The link between Aids and livestock

‘We aim to go back to Africa and make a difference in our organizations and societies’, says Caleb Gumisiriza from Uganda. He is among the first students to graduate from the professional master Rural development & HIV/Aids at Van Hall Larenstein. Already working in the field back home, he found the one-year master course very useful. His classmate Patisiwe Esnath Zaba is also ‘very happy’ with the skills and knowledge she obtained in Wageningen last year.

Patisiwe Esnath Zaba
‘When I came here, I had some prejudices about the HIV/Aids issue. I thought this master would be about health and prevention. I could not see the link with livestock’, confesses Patisiwe Esnath Zaba from Zimbabwe. ‘In the first days of the course I was enlightened. I came to understand that HIV/Aids is a threat to rural development.’ As a livestock specialist in the dairy development department, she dealt with farmers in rural Zimbabwe and saw how the HIV/Aids epidemic affected this group.
‘HIV/Aids causes a shortage of labor. Many people were forced to sell their livestock to pay for medical bills. The dairy production went down and people were losing their income.’ HIV/Aids is poverty-related, Esnath Zaba explains. ‘Poor people are more vulnerable to the impact of the epidemic. They have no access to resources, medication and nutrition.’ These effects are worsened by the economic decline in Zimbabwe and the draughts that have been causing failed crops since 2000.
Esnath Zaba: ‘People’s choices become limited. Women are even more affected. When they have nothing to feed their families, they resort to desperate measures such as transactional sex or cross-border trade, which keeps them away from home for weeks.’ And that growing mobility and families being separated increase the chances of infection with HIV/Aids, she emphasizes.

‘Before entering this course, I did not differentiate between the effects of HIV/Aids on rich and poor people, and gender. Now I have learned to develop different strategies for these categories. So it will be much more effective’, says Caleb Gumisiriza.
‘We need to promote new technologies to compensate for the labor shortage. And we have to work according to the do-no-harm rule’, says Esnath Zaba. ‘If we build a dam that causes people to migrate for example, we increase their risk of getting infected’, continues Gumisiriza. ‘So we must ensure that our programs do not make the situation worse.’
Gumisiriza works as a policy analyst for the national farmers’ federation in Uganda, where he lobbies and advocates favorable policies for farmers. ‘We analyze existing government policies, speak with farmers about their experiences and propose better alternatives when we find gaps in the policies.’
Uganda is seen as a role model for other African countries because of its successful fight against HIV/Aids. HIV/Aids prevalence there has dropped from 18 percent in the nineties to 5.2 percent nowadays. Gumisiriza: ‘We made big progress, but we aim much higher.’

Most of the students in the master course come from African countries where according to Esnath Zaba and Gumisiriza, the role of the political leadership has been crucial in fighting HIV/Aids. ‘When the leadership is supportive, it is easy to respond and develop strategies to counter the impact’, believes Gumisiriza.
From the beginning the political leaders in Uganda were dedicated to fighting the epidemic. All government departments were instructed to develop HIV/Aids policies. Also, they brought together NGOs, community-based organizations and the media, which as a result openly reported on HIV-related issues. Approaches from within the community relating to the attitudes and beliefs in the Ugandan culture were used, instead of solutions from abroad. ‘This proved to be very effective’, explains Gumisiriza.
In countries where governments deny HIV/Aids issues, the problems have increased, the graduates declare. The government of Zimbabwe adopted a national Aids policy six years ago. In the nineties, the prevalence of HIV/Aids was more than twenty percent; now it has gone down to less than 16 percent. ‘Zimbabwe is still in the infancy of implementing policies. But the level of awareness already has increased greatly due to activities of Aids-oriented organizations, like providing free condoms and medication’, Esnath Zaba clarifies.

The graduates will leave soon after their graduation, that took place on Wednesday 1 October. All 43 students of different professional master programs at Van Hall Larenstein graduated that day. On Monday, Gumisiriza will be back in his office in Uganda. There, he will establish a new department on HIV/Aids within his organization. He plans to formulate new policies and pass on the skills and knowledge he brings back from Wageningen. ‘I can’t wait to go back and implement what we have learned.’
‘The training we received is very practical and easy to apply’, agrees his classmate Esnath Zaba. Back home, she will present her findings within her organization and as a specialist on HIV/Aids start training colleagues and adapt policies as well.
Esnath Zaba could take this course because she got a scholarship from a women’s leadership organization in the USA, which thought this course was the best there is on the impact of HIV/Aids in rural areas. ‘All professionals in rural development need to take this course, or at least a bit of it’, says Gumisiriza. Both graduates think it a good idea to offer the professional master on rural development and Aids in Africa.

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