To reach Zambia’s new frontline in its long and protracted battle against the HIV/Aids virus, you have to leave the hospital wards and government buildings of Lusaka and head out into the wide open expanses of the bush.
Eight hours west of the capital in the dusty Mouyo rural health centre, 62-year-old Baxter Kayombo Mubanga describes himself as a soldier waging war against the disease that has killed so many of his friends and neighbours.
“Out here we are fighting, fighting, fighting against this epidemic,” he says. “I am sick to the bone of seeing my community shrivel and die with this disease. When I discovered I was HIV positive in 2003 I told all my neighbours to take the test; most of them who refused are now dead. We have to say enough is enough.”
Transmission is still highest in Zambia’s urban centres and industrial copper belt. But it is in rural communities like Mouyo that a lack of access to health facilities, chronic shortages of trained healthcare workers, and cultural stigma and discrimination have ensured HIV rates remain stubbornly high.
This is an extract from a longer article on how Zambians are fighting back against the rise of HIV/Aids, which first appeared in The Guardian in October 2008. Click here to read it in full.