PlusNews, 14 November 2002, MOZAMBIQUE:

JOHANNESBURG, (IRIN) - People living with HIV/AIDS (PWAs) in Mozambique are learning how to live longer and more productive lives under a new programme currently being rolled out in the country.

The Vida Positiva/Positive Living programme is a "social education" project targeting those infected and affected by the disease, national coordinator for Vida Positiva, Nyeleti Mondlane, told PlusNews.

The project includes information on how people who cannot afford antiretroviral treatment, can still live positively without them, in part through better nutrition.

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are still relatively "new" in the country. Four types of antiretrovirals went on sale in private clinics and pharmacies for the first time last month, but they remain out of reach for most people in the country.

"Our big concern is that people need to be informed about ARV therapy and the side-effects and we need to give support for those who need it but cannot afford it," Mondlane said.

After public forums held throughout the country earlier this year, it became apparent that HIV-positive people felt neglected. Government campaigns concentrated on HIV/AIDS prevention and ignored PWAs.

"People were frustrated and were asking, 'what about us'. They were scared to find out their status because of the common misconception that AIDS is death," she added.

Vida Positiva is working with NGOs, faith-based and community-based organisations in a training programme designed to provide participants with information and tools that can be imparted to communities.

According to Mondlane, the country's health system only reaches about 40 percent of the population and the rest use alternative support networks such as traditional healers and midwives.

"We have to get to these people through these informal structures. But first we make sure that these support systems understand what HIV/AIDS is and how they can encourage people to live healthier lives," she said.

Next week, the programme will be training 42 traditional healers in northern Mozambique
and informing them about their role in fighting the epidemic.

The programme includes a book describing how HIV-positive people can do specific things - physical, nutritional, emotional, and spiritual - to strengthen their immune systems.

The book aims to show people how PWAs can make use of available resources, such as home-grown vegetables.

But the programme is not just about HIV/AIDS. "The first question we ask people is: 'Why do you want to live?'. You cannot expect an individual to protect themselves if they don't understand their reason for doing so," Mondlane noted.

The programme's biggest challenge was encouraging people and giving them a reason to live. Mondlane said: "People in this country have given up. We have been through droughts, floods, a civil war and now AIDS."

"This programme won't make them change, it will give them information to help them make the change," she added.