In the neighbourhood of Polana Caniço, one of the most disadvantaged in the city of Maputo, there are those who travel long distances, under the intense sun, looking to give hope to those who abandon anti-retroviral treatment in desperation.
In the hustle and bustle of suburban neighbourhoods, among children and adults in the roads and alleys, activists have never given up on carrying out their activities. They focus is always on saving lives.
Sometimes it is possible to find them in pairs. Some other time, they find themselves alone. However, in general, hundreds of activists are spread throughout the various districts of Maputo City in search of mechanisms to help the chronically ill individuals.
Many of these activists have moved from the comfort of their homes to the streets, where they spread awareness messages against certain diseases, in a neighbourhood with a higher HIV prevalence rate.
Hercília Djedje, an activist with the Kutenga Association, is part of this group. She joined activism in 2019, after receiving an invitation from the head of her neighbourhood ward. At the time, she loved working with teenagers.
“I am very interested in working with teenagers here in Maputo city. Despite living in a time with lots of information, teenagers continue to have unprotected sex”, she laments.
Out of the experience she gained, Djedje noted that people believe they are not HIV-positive, even though they have never been tested before, to which she says that “as long as we have not had the test done, we are all contaminated.”
Unprotected sex, says the activist, remains one of the biggest problems that contributes to the spread of the disease, “adolescents, in particular, say that they trust their multiple partners and that they have sex with them and as well as other partners unprotected.”
The activist laments that “generally, when a couple contracts some STI, one of the partners visits the health centre alone, without informing the partner. It is necessary to face this in a group, with the partner or the family.”
SHAME IS STILL A BARRIER
During his two years as an activist, Djedje has seen a lot, having gained a lot of experience on how to deal with people during this time.
“Over this time, which may seem short but is not, I saw a lot. There are people living with HIV and, because of shame, prefer to buy medicines from health technicians,” she says.
According to the interviewee, “generally, they do not follow the legal procedures. They disappear for a long time, or are never in the hospital and only return when their condition worsens”, she laments.
For the activist, HIV-positive individuals who stay away from health centres not only harm themselves, but do harm to others as well.
“The tendency of these people is to buy an amount always above that which each patient deserves. Generally, the amount provided to the sick buyer is the same amount that is part of the reserve,” she says.
Because of that, Djedje understands that it is necessary to have a clear management and legal control of medicines in the health units so that the needy really benefit.
Stigma remains often a constant among people living with HIV. Sometimes, on her trips to the neighbourhoods, she believes that many people refuse to give true information for fear of stigmatisation.
“In some cases, you notice that the person says he is not HIV-positive for fear that the neighbours will know about their health condition,” she says.
THE DAY-TO-DAY OF ACTVISM
Early on a Tuesday, Djedje enters the Polana Caniço neighbourhood. She walks a few kilometres and, in the first alley she enters, a man calls to her attention. He is middle-aged, walking with the support of a cane and without a mask on his face.
Djedje greets him. The latter greets back but distances himself. However, in the house next door, a couple is predisposed to listen to Djedje’s speeches. The couple opens their doors to the house and the talk starts.
“We are living in difficult times. In addition to other diseases, we have Covid-19,” says Djedje, while preparing a poster about Covid-19 to explain to the couple.
Djedje also talks about other chronic illnesses to the couple who accept the information with satisfaction. In the end, the family welcomes the whole message and Djedje continues her journey which is not only marked by good times.
“Some people here don’t want to talk to us. Others we see with our eyes that they are not well. They cough and they should go to a health unit, but they refuse,” she says.
But none of this prevents the activist from continuing her work, because in the midst of so many refusals, “there are people who still want to hear us and this is how we save many people.”