Herb centre offers help for people living with HIV

Farirai Muzenda from Epworth in Harare is HIV-positive and pregnant with her fifth child. Contrary to expectations, she’s a smiling, healthy woman. She puts her good luck down to a combination of traditional herbs, a positive outlook and good eating habits.

“HIV-positive people should maintain healthy lifestyles and ensure early treatment for every minor ailment.” – Farirai Muzenda
“HIV-positive people should maintain healthy lifestyles and ensure early treatment for every minor ailment.” – Farirai Muzenda

“I have been living positively and I have managed to do this through the use of herbal medicines. They are cost effective and readily available. I have never taken anti-retroviral drugs,” she said.

“HIV-positive people should maintain healthy lifestyles and ensure early treatment for every minor ailment.”

Muzenda revealed that when she tested positive in 2008, her doctor indicated that he could not commence her on ART because her CD4 count was way above the prescribed one.

“My count was 800 and, when my doctor told me this, I was devastated because I felt a death sentence had been imposed on me,” she said.

The 2010 World Health Organisation ART guidelines specified that a person living with HIV could start on the life-prolonging drugs when their CD4 count was 350 and below.

Last year, Zimbabwe adopted the latest WHO ART guidelines, which reviewed the stage at which a person living with HIV was put ART – a rise in the limit to 500.

CD4 cells are a type of white blood cell that fights infection and their count reflects the extent of HIV in a person.

National Aids Council chief executive officer Tapuwa Magure, in a statement, revealed that early ART initiation of people living with HIV enhanced an individual’s immune system, and reduced their chances of getting opportunistic infections.

In Zimbabwe, 1.2m people are living with HIV. Of these, 600,000 are on ART.

Muzenda told The Zimbabwean that she joined Kushinga Support Group in 2010 after realising that she needed to socialise and get psychosocial support.

“I boost my immune system through herbs, some of which I grow in my herb garden in my backyard in Epworth,” she said.

Some of the herbs that are grown and dispensed to complement medical treatment.
Some of the herbs that are grown and dispensed to complement medical treatment.

She described her daily routine. “Good eating habits are a must for anyone who is HIV-positive, whether you’re on ART or not. I take my herbs in sugarless teas and porridge,” she said.

When she’s ill, she treats each ailment with a particular herb and ensures that she exercises to keep fit.

Said Muzenda: “Sister Yullita was running a programme for women in my community and a friend invited me to attend. That is how I became a member of this life-saving initiative.” The Little Children of our Blessed Lady nuns, through Yullita Chirawu, are running a thriving herbal healthcare centre at the Harare Showgrounds.

Open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the herbal clinic is where patients with common diseases like blood pressure, diarrhoea, fibroids, cysts, headaches, malaria and even sexually transmitted infections get herbal treatment.

It looks like an ordinary clinic, but patients not only tested, diagnosis and treatment, but received counselling too.

Said Chirawu: “The challenge was integrating herbal medicines as a solution to the health needs of Zimbabweans. Some people associated herbal medicines with traditional healers and there was a general tendency of failing to understand that pharmaceutical drugs are made from them.”

The nuns have even set up a processing plant for herbal medicines at Makumbi mission in Domboshava.

“We are hoping to take these clinics to the rural areas, but we don’t have a vehicle that can travel on rough terrain,” said Chirawu, adding that because the centre charged minimal fees for their services, it was very difficult to raise funds.

The programmes officer at the clinic, Obert Maturuzha, said the centre was a hub for various capacity-building initiatives for people living with HIV.

“We work with support groups from Harare’s high-density suburbs of Chitungwiza, Rugare, Mbare, Budiriro, Mabvuku, Epworth, Dzivarasekwa, Highfield and Mufakose, where we encourage them to cultivate their own herb gardens,” he said.

“The plan is to ensure that they are self-reliant and that they are better positioned to get income out of these gardens because we will be buying their herbs for processing at the plant in Domboshava.”

Maturuzha said group members had health assessment check-ups every three months.

‘Most of our patients who are on ART have problems with skin rashes and other related ailments. They use herbs to treat themselves. We encourage those on ART to continue with their medication while we provide the external remedies,” he said.

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