Banza Chela, Zambia
Retaining health workers is an ever present challenge for many developing countries
Working as a community volunteer and facilitator in Lusaka, Banza Chela is doing his bit to mobilise support and pass on his skills to future generations living with HIV. And he wants world leaders to make sure health is a top priority if current successes are to be maintained.
More about this health hero
In Zambia, the health sector "depends solely on donor funding to function properly", according to married father of two Banza Chela. "Our health care delivery system is struggling with the huge disease burden prevalent in our country." This makes the work that Banza does all the more important, and it's largely thanks to financing and support from the Global Fund that he's able to do what he does. For although Banza doesn't have any paid employment, he is able to hold down various different positions through which he's able to make a valuable contribution to both his family's future and to the wider community.
Since discovering his HIV status, Banza has become an active member of the health sector. "After participating in a number of workshops, an awakening of the activist in me happened simultaneously, and I have always endeavored to serve others, especially marginalised groups, ever since," he says. Banza joined a support group of people living with HIV called Chibusa, which means friend in Bemba, his native language. "Through my support group I learned about advocacy research and treatment literacy during which I was identified as a potential member and quick learner," says Banza, who has been trained as a volunteer and a facilitator. Asked how he feels when he sees his work has a positive impact on peoples' lives, Banza says he feels "enormous gratitude" when people praise him for the good work he is doing. "This inspires me to do more for my community of people living with HIV," he says.
Banza is also driven by his family, and is proud that he was able to convince his wife and two little girls to go for voluntary counselling and testing. In turn, he says he "got a lot of support" from them to go public about his status and to influence other people to also test for HIV, battling the stigma which still surrounds people with the virus.
He pulls no punches when it comes to his expectations from world leaders. "My message to policymakers is clear: keep on prioritising the MDGs on health if we are to sustain the current successes that we have scored by putting people living with HIV on medication and resurrecting them, giving them a fresh breath of life!" he says. What does this mean? Retaining health care providers, scaling up treatment, upgrading or building new infrastructure to shorten the distances between treatment and the people who need to access it, Banza explains. But he warns that retaining health care workers is "an ever present challenge" as they seek "greener pastures" in the region and overseas, given the poor working conditions they face in Zambia.
Right now, Banza is one of the ambassadors for the "Here I am Campaign", which aims to mobilise support from donors ahead of the third replenishment conference of the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and malaria later this year. It's something close to his heart. "My motivation for joining the Here I Am Campaign is my children, to keep them alive," he says. "I am participating in this campaign because I need it for my family, I need it to make sense of my life."
Banza has big hopes for the future, and he plans to mentor young people living with HIV in the advocacy skills he has acquired so as to ensure a sustained civil society movement for years to come.