He is a living example of how persons with HIV and AIDS can lead normal lives, be steadfast and be in the forefront in the fight against the disease. Joel Lupinda, 43, from Wapamesa Village in Kawambwa district, Northern Zambia is a strong ambassador of the HIV and AIDS fight. He often carries a cheerful smile.
For more than two years, Lupinda has actively supported persons living with HIV and AIDS. This is through visiting, counselling and replenishing their medication. Moreover, he encourages other community members to seek Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) services.
Lupinda is an advocate of Elimination of Mother-to-Children Transmission (EMTCT) - a service that provides expectant mothers with drugs so as not transmit the virus to their unborn children. Lupinda and his wife Lillian Chola, 34, are beneficiaries of the service. “My wife and I have three children. They are HIV negative. In fact, we want to have one more child,” he says, with a broad smile, of his children born by a mother who is HIV positive. The couple was provided with information about EMTCT by AAH Zambia.
The affable man got to know about his HIV positive status five years ago. Two years later, he joined Wapamesa Community Action Group and in 2014 he became an inspirational speaker on HIV and AIDS. The support group helps people who have tested positive to adhere to antiretroviral therapy (ART) - this is a combination of medicine that suppress the HIV virus, and resultantly prolong the lives of the people who live with the disease.
Through the home visits by the group’s members that are supported by AAH Zambia, Lupinda is able to talk boldly and openly about his status and offer encouragement to others to seek VCT services.
“It has not been easy, especially in a rural setting, to openly talk about HIV and AIDS and how one can live a normal life with the disease,” he says. But through regular home visits and health education on issues pertaining to HIV re-infection, prevention, Antenatal Care (ANC) - a routine health care for expectant mothers, EMTCT and family planning after delivery, he has managed to sensitise hundreds of community members about the disease.
He sometimes collects antiretroviral drugs on behalf of sufferers that are too weak and unable to access them due to long distances to ART centres. “I visit newly-enrolled clients on ART who are still struggling with stigma and discrimination. I talk and encourage them to share their HIV status to people they trust as a way of relieving their burden,” he explains. The more one talks about his or her status openly, the less stigma he/she encounters. As a result of his open discussions about HIV and AIDS, Lupinda is able to share his experiences at various fora, without fear or shame, and be a pillar of inspiration.
AAH Zambia, with support from Positive Action Children Fund (PACF), is running a Community-led Prevention Initiative (COPI) project in Kawambwa district, Luapula Province. The two-year project supports interventions on ANC, family planning, reproductive health messages and teenage pregnancies. It has benefited over 10, 000 community members, since it was started in 2014.