Dedicated to care: Empowering male caregivers in Zimbabwe

Africare's Male Empowerment Project in Zimbabwe is challenging traditional by increasing male involvement in home-based care services given to rural people living with AIDS. The project equips men with the training and support necessary to become effective secondary caregivers - encouraging a new generation of healthcare givers in Zimbabwe to be "man enough to care. " Below is the story, straight from Africare/Zimbabwe.

MUTASA DISTRICT, ZIMBABWE, October 29, 2007 - Justin Rangai, 66, from Zimbabwe's eastern Mutasa district, used to stand by helplessly as he watched his wife bathe and dress his seriously ill brother. He felt there was little he could do to help; and like many men, Justin felt disempowered. His brother died in 1992 and by 2002, when Africare launched its Male Empowerment Project in Mutasa, Justin was convinced that men need to play a bigger role in providing care to critically ill people.

The empowerment project, which is partially funded by Irish Aid, was one of the first programs designed to tackle the overwhelming non-involvement of men in AIDS care. The project sought to change certain behavioral trends and challenge existing social and gender norms.

"Women were already mobilized and were working with the local clinic to provide assistance to patients in the community," Justin said. "It was apparent that men had to get involved in care work too. I decided to join so as to lead by example in caring for people living with HIV."

Traditionally, the female members of family units in Justin's community had taken care of their sick relatives. But since the incidence HIV has risen in the area, the burden of care has become too difficult for the women to bear alone and men are increasingly being called on to lend a hand.

In 2002, Africare conducted a baseline study within the community and concluded that men needed to be empowered and mobilized if people living with HIV were to be effectively cared for in a home-based setting.

"Home-based care is not like a hospital, " Justin said. "It is only helping to look after patients. We refer patients to the hospital when they are sick."

To prepare men for volunteer work, Africare provided training and home-based care kits to all the men involved in the empowerment project. But several problems, such as the erratic nature of subsequent refresher courses and the lack of transport available to the men involved, initially held the program back.

In response to these issues, Africare distributed bicycles to men to allow greater access to people living with serious diseases in other parts of their communities.

"We devote ourselves to the work, but most men [still] refuse to join ...," Justin said. "Some of the men have said that they fear getting infected with HIV. "

Other problems, including the lack of food security in Justin's community, have hampered the success of the project and have left many would-be patients unwilling to become involved. But with the help of food handouts from the World Food Program and irrigation kits from Africare, increasing numbers of people living with HIV are seeking help from men like Justin.

"When the food came, more people with came forward. Actually, the food made people more open ..., " Justin said. "I am doing this good work not just for other people but because it will eventually come back to my family. "