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CHIEFTAINESS MWANJABANTHU MAKES A DIFFERENCE

By Sebastian Kasabo and Bryan Baleke Ngambi



Formeaningfuldevelopmenttooccuratdifferent
levels, we need to have people who are very
healthy, fit and productive. It is only healthy and
productivepeoplethathavethepotentialtobring
about meaningful development, says her Royal
Highness Chieftainess Mwanjabanthu of
Mwanjabanthu Chiefdom.

Mwanjabanthu Chiefdom is in the Western part of Petauke District in Eastern Province and is
about 45 Kilometers away from Petauke Boma, off Great East road. The Chiefdom is surrounded
by both subsistence and commercial farmers, with a catchment population of 14061, making it
one of the biggest Chiefdoms in the district. It shares boarders with Mozambique on the Southern
West part of the district and Sinda district in the East. It is headed by Her Royal Highness
Chieftainess Mwanjabanthu who has been instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS from the
time she ascended to the throne.
Before she became Chieftainess, women in this chiefdom knew very little about Prevention of
Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of the HIV virus and Institutional deliveries of babies. They
believed so much in traditional healers and were of the idea that home deliveries were the best
and safest means of bringing a child into the world. Unfortunately, this resulted into numerous
births of HIV positive babies, with most of them dying before reaching the age of 5. To make
matters worse, these deaths were associated with witchcraft and this brought about hatred
amongst families and communities due to innocent people being accused of causing the deaths.
They were also a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding institutional deliveries and this
prevented pregnant mothers from accessing Antenatal Care (ANC) services, including those that
knew that they were HIV positive. This meant that the innocent unborn babies were at risk of
contracting the HIV virus from their HIV positive mothers.
Because the community did not know that by going to health centers for antenatal care, HIV
positive pregnant mothers could receive the necessary support to prevent the baby from getting
the HIV virus from the mother, they continued conducting home deliveries that put their babies
at risk of contracting the virus. According to the Mwanjabantu Rural health center records, out of
10 pregnancies, 70% were home deliveries and these came with a lot of complications which not
only endangered the life of the unborn child, but the mother as well. When her Royal Highness
Chieftainess Mwanjabanthu came into power, she decided to take up a leading role in community
sensitization on HIV/AIDS related issues in order to improve the health of her community. I
decided to take up a leading role in community mobilization, because I want to be a Chieftainess
of a healthy community, she said. I do realize that for me to have a productive community I need
a health community. Therefore, to protect her community from dying from preventable illnesses,
the Chieftainess became actively involved with CARE Zambias Integrated Tuberculosis and AIDS
Program (ITAP II) which is working with the Zambian Government through the Ministry of Health
to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis among
the most vulnerable populations in the Petauke, Chadiza and Chama districts of Eastern Province,
reaching more than 540,000 people.
ITAP II is a five year project (2010-2015) funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. The project focuses on three areas: tuberculosis and HIV linkage, counseling and
testing for HIV positive individuals, and prevention of mother to child HIV transmission. Working
with the project, Her Royal Highness Chieftainess Mwanjabanthu has taken up a leading role in
her community to sensitize the people on the need and importance of Counselling and Testing,
Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT), TB and HIV/AIDS testing, as well as the
importance of engaging men these activities. One strategy she has used to address these issues is
by talking about them whenever she has meetings in the chiefdom. According to the Chieftainess,
men who refuse to escort their spouses for Antenatal Care are summoned and punished.
Therefore, for fear of being punished, men have put themselves in the forefront to encourage
their spouses and accompany them to the health centers to receive antenatal care throughout
their pregnancies.
Her Royal Highness finds time in her busy schedule to meet with Community Based Volunteers at
least twice in a month to conduct sensitizations at Mwanjabanthu Health Center. These
Community Based Volunteers have been trained by CARE through ITAP II to assist health facilities
in providing services to the community such as counselling and HIV testing, door to door collection
of samples for TB testing which are then delivered to the health centers for testing, conducting
follow-ups in homes of patients receiving care from the health centers, providing PMTCT services
to expectant mothers, and sensitizing communities on HIV/AIDS and TB related issues. Her Royal
Highness Chieftainess Mwanjabanthu has also been very proactive and supportive in community
mobilization especially in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I do not want to see my people die due to
lack of information, she said, her face glistering with conviction. Why should they die young
when we have ARVs to prolong their lives? Why should we let the babies die prematurely when
we have Niverapine to prolong their lives? she asked.
The leading role taken up by Her Royal highness in the fight against HIV/AIDS has not only
encouraged the Community based Volunteers but also the ordinary members of the community
who have also taken it upon themselves to join the fight against HIV and other preventable
diseases. As a result of her active involvement in all these activities, more people are now going
to the health facility for Counselling and Testing, PMTCT, and receiving other health services. With
the knowledge attained from community sensitization, members of the community are now able
to discuss HIV/AIDS related issues freely at different gatherings