Surviving as an HIV-positive teacher

She enjoys what she does and her pupils love her too.  Memory Motsi* rents a room in Chitungwiza, about 20km from the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

She wakes up at five in the morning to get to work on time at the
school where she teaches Grade 5 in Hatfield, a suburb in the city,
because the poor salaries in education sector, totally outpaced by
hyperinflation, mean she can no longer afford the bus fare to and from

She enjoys what she does and her pupils love her too; at the end of
class some of them crowd around to get a hug. For the past five years
she has been HIV positive and says her work keeps her mind from
"straying" to problems like whether she will be able to afford next
month’s supply of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.

As a member of the Progressive Teacher’s Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ),
Motsi was one of 60 teachers receiving subsidised ARVs from the union
after it launched the treatment programme in June 2007. Before that she
had been on the government’s ARV waiting list for at least two years
and was slowly losing hope of ever getting the medication.

For over a year the PTUZ had funded its ARV scheme using monthly
subscriptions from its members, but in September 2008 its treatment
programme began experiencing difficulties in the hyperinflationary

Takavafira Zhou, President of the PTUZ, told IRIN/PlusNews that ending
the programme was the most painful thing the leadership of the union
has ever had to do.

"We couldn’t sustain the programme because the prices of drugs just
kept skyrocketing. Each month they would go up and we would increase
our membership fees, until such a time when we couldn’t afford them.
When we launched the ARV scheme we had thought donors would come in and
support us but unfortunately they have not been forthcoming."

After the scheme folded, the union managed to enrol some of the
teachers in private ARV schemes run by non-governmental organizations;
others, like Motsi, have not been so lucky, and have been struggling to
keep themselves on treatment.

After working hard for my money … I’ve been asking myself, is it
worth it that I go hungry and buy these ARVs? But I guess I have no
choice "I sell popcorn, roasted groundnuts, frozen fruit juices, and
give extra lessons to children from my school and other children in
Chitungwiza. Of course, this is in violation of the contracts I signed
with the ministry of education, but I have to survive you know," Motsi

Surviving in Zimbabwe’s failing economy is like living in a nightmare.
After working for more than 15 years in the teaching profession, Motsi
has little to show for her dedication and hard work: a three-door
wardrobe, a single bed, a two-plate electric stove, a kitchen cabinet
and a rusty old kitchen table with only two chairs remaining.

Her ARVs, costing about US$50 a month, often mean foregoing other things.

"After working hard for my money, these past two months that I have had
to buy my own drugs I’ve been asking myself, ‘Is it worth it that I go
hungry and buy these ARVs?’ But I guess I have no choice."

Motsi is one of the many teachers living with HIV who are struggling to
get access to ARVs and medical care, even though they contribute about
three percent of their meagre earnings every month to the National AIDS
Trust Fund, commonly known as the "AIDS levy".

The AIDS levy, to which every worker in Zimbabwe contributes, was set up in

1999 to beef up national resources in the national fight against HIV/AIDS.

Proceeds from this levy also helped finance the establishment of the
National AIDS Council, which coordinates all the country’s HIV/AIDS

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO), the high infection rate of teachers in Zimbabwe can be
attributed to the government’s policy of deploying qualified teachers
to other areas; statistics show that at least 72 percent of married
teachers in rural areas do not stay with their spouses.

The PTUZ estimates that every school in the country has lost at least
three teachers to AIDS-related deaths in the past few years, and that
one or two teachers are on sick leave every term as result of an
HIV-related illness.

In the absence of official statistics, the PTUZ has used "cluster-based
information" to show the vulnerability of teachers to HIV/AIDS and the
serious impact it is having, not only on the profession but also on
education in the country.

* Not her real name

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