Bertha Mukome, Zimbabwe
Politicians must scale up prevention methods for HIV/AIDS if access for all is to increase
One 31-year-old women in Zimbabwe, who is now affectionately known as Auntie Bertha, is providing a non-judgemental ear for everyone to confide in. After losing two of her own relatives to the illness, she has been working to ensure young people in her community are fully informed about HIV/Aids
More about this health hero
Bertha Mukome is a 31-year-old project officer at a Zimbabwean NGO. The realities of HIV and Aids came to her in 2003 when two very close relatives passed away. Unfortunately, the family did not seem to understand the problem, and as may be expected, they started gossiping about it.
At the time, Bertha herself failed to grasp the reality of the situation. It wasn't until she joined an HIV/Aids service organisation that she really understood what had happened. That her two relatives were in fact victims of an epidemic.
But more than that. Bertha also became aware that she could make a difference to her family, as well as to the communities she was serving. This was especially important to her as she worked, and still works, with young people. She wanted to help them understand the nature of the problem and know how they can prevent transmission.
Bertha also trains and supports community members who care for others who are living with HIV. When Bertha faced the same situation herself, she was not in a position to support her relatives. She says she would have found it "a privilege" to support the, but she could never enjoy it. "When we were at school," Bertha says, "we never learnt about HIV or had discussions about it. We were never told that it is perfectly possible to provide care without health risks for oneself."
To date, Bertha has made significant efforts in working with youth in rural areas of Zimbabwe, helping them access information on HIV and Aids. Popularly known as Auntie Bertha, she has established very close relationships with youth, which means they feel able to confide in her about issues very close to their hearts, from relationship with peers and parents to family issues, personal development and sexual and reproductive health.
Bertha does not judge them, and this may be the key to their confidence in her. "Helping young people to make informed decisions, is what makes me happy," she says. Bertha hopes her actions today will leave a lasting legacy on the young people she works with. She wants to see them develop into adults with no regrets, nothing they would have done differently. She knows only too well the devastating effects HIV can have on everyone involved.
Bertha will continue to do what she does best. But she wants help from politicians. She says they need to continue to upscale all possible prevention methods, whether it is education and awareness raising, providing medical facilities and equipment or training individuals like Bertha. And they must take their lead from people like Bertha and make sure young people are given the knowledge and the means to protect themselves against HIV.