By Elvis Dumba
Chinhoyi – United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID has launched the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) support program worth US$17,373,720.00 in Mashonaland West Province.
The program will provide support to 42 705 children, adolescents, youth, and families affected and infected by HIV across four districts in Mashonaland West, which are Makonde, Chegutu, Hurungwe, and Zvimba Districts over a period of five years.
Working with local non-governmental agencies, the program seeks to complement government efforts to address the current HIV treatment gap and improve health, safety, education, and stability outcomes for orphans and other vulnerable children, adolescents, and youth affected by HIV in Zimbabwe.
This will be achieved through improved access to HIV, care and treatment services for children, adolescents, and youth, strengthening child and family safety skills through improved access to HIV, Gender Based Violence prevention and response as well as child protection services, and improving economic stability and educational attainment for vulnerable children and their families.
Tawanda Zimhunga, Director for Social Development in the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare, thanked the people of the United States of America for support for the program through PEPFAR and USAID and said the program will be key in closing the HIV treatment gap among children by ensuring that OVC are tested for HIV and linked to appropriate care.
“The program through its community-facility linkage model shall contribute to the reduction of new HIV infections, HIV testing, and early infant diagnosis, linkages to treatment, case management, treatment adherence support, and viral suppression among children. The program is in line with Zimbabwe National AIDS Strategic Plan IV vision to end AIDS as a public health threat through accelerating the scale-up of HIV programs and transitioning the HIV response into a suitable phase in reducing new HIV infections, ” he said during the launch.
Mashonaland West Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Mary Mliswa-Chikoka, who was represented by Provincial Secretary Joseph Jaji, said the province and the country focus through National Development Strategy 1 is to ensure that everyone and place are involved in the development of the country and applauded the generous support of the program funding.
“In line with Vision 2030 of Ending AIDS and establishing a middle-income society by 2030, the government of Zimbabwe under the leadership of President Emerson Mnangagwa remains committed to improving access to and quality of HIV prevention, care, and treatment services for people living with HIV through the implementation of client-centered approaches.
“With this funding support, the goal of sustaining prevention, care, and support services for OVC in Zimbabwe is to improve health, safety, education, and stability outcomes for orphans and youth affected and infected by HIV. We believe that the program we are launching today will contribute to HIV epidemic control in a big way, promoting accountability and improved efficiency among implementing partners, ” Mr. Jaji said.
USAID-Zimbabwe Deputy Health Director, Michelle Kouletio said the program themed “Bvumbamira Vana” is meant to provide a protective covering with a new investment of US$78,8 million that will reach over half a million orphans and vulnerable children in Zimbabwe over the next five years.
“Today, we launch the next phase of the OVC program with our sights on greater collaboration, integration, learning and adaption, and sustainability. You will hear from the remarkable children and community champions who participated in the previous OVC project. They have overcome inconceivable challenges in their young lives, losing parents, moving from relative to relative, escaping violence and abuse, and struggling to stay in school. Many live in poverty and lack the support needed to meet their basic needs and stay healthy and safe.
“It is daunting to think about all the struggles that too many children face growing up today. HIV continues to impact our families’ social and physical well-being and continues to be a significant risk to our children as they grow into young adults,” she said.
The program is a continuation of the recently completed seven-year PEPFAR project implemented by Hospaz in the Province, which transformed the lives of the most vulnerable children and their caregivers, reaching almost 50,000 orphans and vulnerable children in the province.
Hospaz has partnered with local non-governmental organizations in the province, which are Pamuhacha and Tsungirirai, for the implementation of the program.
“The United States is grateful to work alongside HOSPAZ, our implementing partner, and with the Government of Zimbabwe, Ministries and Departments including the Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Health and Child Care to help Zimbabweans live longer, healthier lives, Despite the tremendous progress made, we all agree that work still remains to reach epidemic control for HIV in Zimbabwe which is one of the top health threats facing the people of Zimbabwe ” Kouletio who represented the USAID Head of Mission in Zimbabwe said.
The United States has contributed over US1,7 billion dollars to Zimbabwe since 2003 for HIV prevention, care, and treatment services which include support for Zimbabwe’s national systems to foster long-term sustainability through PEPFAR, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.