By BENEDICT TEMBO
AT a time when financial support towards the fight against HIV and AIDS is dwindling, the National AIDS Council (NAC) and road agencies have come up with an innovative mechanism to mobilise resources to respond to the epidemic.
NAC has partnered with two road sector agencies – the Road Development Agency (RDA) and the National Road Fund Agency as well as the Zambia Environmental Management Agency to ensure that health impacts are properly planned in capital projects.
This intervention has come at the right time when Zambia is undertaking massive infrastructure projects across the country as a strategy for employment creation, poverty reduction and inclusive growth.
Among the projects Government is undertaking the Kazungula Bridge project across the Zambezi River.
While the project will foster regional integration, it will also increase accessibility through enhancement of free flow of traffic on the North-South Corridor, specifically between Botswana and Zambia which is currently serviced by a ferry system. This may hasten the spread of HIV.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is helping Zambia and other African countries by strengthening policy and technical awareness, competencies, management systems and mechanisms to adequately and systematically integrate cross – cutting issues in capital projects.
This has translated into regional guidelines.
And to field – test this, Zambia last week hosted a four-day regional exchange meeting in Livingstone â€“ on the fringes of Kazungula district where probably one of Africaâ€™s biggest bridge projects will be constructed.
NAC director general Jabbin Mulwanda said a regional infrastructure project like the Kazungula Bridge has provided a great platform for countries to work together in ensuring that health issues, particularly HIV responses, are kept on the agenda of capital projects.
â€œWe have an opportunity to assess to what extent health impacts and gender have been incorporated in the Kazungula environmental impact assessment report not only by reviewing the report but by also getting on the ground,â€ Dr. Mulwanda said.
Dr Mulwanda said HIV knows no borders and as such, it is absolutely critical for stakeholders to plan as a region more so for the neighbouring border towns in ensuring that local responses are in tandem one with the other.
â€œHuge projects such as the Kazungula Bridge attract migrant populations seeking employment and supply of goods and services,â€ he said of the project where about 2,000 people are expected to be employed.
Dr Mulwanda said evidence around mobile and migrant populations in as far as vulnerability to HIV is concerned, is well documented.
â€œFurther, research has shown that HIV prevalence is higher along trade corridors compared to far – flung areas. Key populations such as sex workers are equally attracted to the vicinity of such projects for economic gain.
â€œThis calls for appropriate responses that are not reactive but proactive by thinking ahead and managing the risks before they happen,â€ he said.
The RDA, through its director and chief executive officer Bernard Chiwala, said it has developed an environmental management system that includes the incorporation of the environmental contract clause and the HIV/AIDS clause in all road work contracts.
The HIV/AIDS clause addresses mainly the issues of awareness – raising regarding the transmission of HIV and its prevention.
Mr Chiwala said to this effect, funds are provided in the road contracts to engage HIV/AIDS service providers and safety, health and environmental officers at respective project areas to spearhead issues of HIV/AIDS and environment at project level.
In a speech read on his behalf by RDA director of human capital and administration Andrew Chisala at a regional exchange meeting to look at the case of the Kazungula Bridge project, Mr Chiwala said RDA acknowledges that efforts being employed currently in the road sector to address issues of HIV/AIDS and gender may have gaps.
He said RDA would welcome suggestions from experts on how it could improve its efforts as it prepares to start building the Kazungula Bridge and its associated border facilities.
Mr Chiwala also said the agency, as per Zambian government policy, provides equal employment opportunities to both men and women.
The United Nations systems on the other hand called on countries sharing the Kazungula Bridge to implement and document cross – country best practices using the project as a case study.
UN resident coordinator Janet Rogan said the prevalence of HIV in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region still remains unacceptably very high, yet there are many drivers including construction and subsequent operations of large capital projects.
â€œIn the case of Zambia, the current government has prioritised infrastructure development for inclusive growth. Zambia is literally a construction site with huge ambitious investments such as Link Zambia 8000 and others shaping up across the country.
â€œThe Government has prioritised large capital projects as a strategy for job creation, poverty reduction and, ultimately, inclusive growth. In this context, the United Nations Joint Team on HIV and AIDS, through UNDP, have forged a consolidated partnership between public, civil society and private developers to maximise high impact interventions aimed at the target to getting to zero,â€ she said.
SADC technical advisor â€“ capacity building and mainstreaming HIV and AIDS Vitalis Chipfakacha called for understanding of the impact of cross-cutting issues on development and the impact of development efforts on the epidemic, including the aspects of development efforts that facilitate and mitigate the impact of cross-cutting issues.
Dr Chipfakacha emphasised placing the response to cross-cutting issues in the core agenda of all sectors (public, NGO and private sectors) of all SADC member states so that it is mainstreamed into their normal and routine functions.
The regional workshop, which was looking at how issues of HIV/AIDS and gender have been integrated into the Kazungula Bridge project, had attracted participants from UNDP Regional Office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, SADC secretariat in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
By BENEDICT TEMBO