Zambian reporter has his own story to tell
There are 2.04 million people in Zambia (population 13.8 million) who are HIV positive. One of them is journalist Enock Ngoma, deputy news editor at a national daily paper, the Times of Zambia. He has worked in newspapers for 22 years. In addition to his editorial work, Ngoma writes a weekly column, Aids Corner, in the Sunday edition of the paper.
He sits in his office off the paper’s small newsroom on Lusaka’s Freedom Way and recalls grimly how he discovered he was HIV positive.
“It was 1997. I was due to spend a month in the US on a one-month programme in Washington. At that time, you had to take a HIV test before you were permitted a visa to travel to the US. I was tested, and the following day, I went to get my results.
“A US doctor told me I was HIV positive and that I could not travel. There was no counselling. I remember walking around afterwards in shock. I was devastated.”
Once diagnosed, Ngoma had a new understanding and a “passion” about the importance of how the HIV story was reported in the media. “I thought I could help others. I thought: ‘what can I do to play a part in the story?’”
He started to write his Aids Corner weekly column six years ago.
Ngoma received a huge response to a column he wrote early last year. “It was on stigma and discrimination,” he says.
He wrote about a HIV positive barber who was working in the market of Mtendere township, and whose photograph the paper also carried. The intention of the column was to remind readers that HIV positive people can, and do, carry out normal lives and professions.
Initially, the barber was ostracised by his community in the township. He lost customers and there were calls to get him “thrown out of the market because people were afraid they would get HIV from his barber implements”.
But gradually, people in other businesses in the market came forward to join the barber to say that they were also HIV positive. Together, they formed a group to combat discrimination.
“One by one, people joined him, and in that market there are now more than 45 people who have businesses there who are also HIV positive. He has got back his business and customers are flocking to him.” Ngoma wrote about all this in a follow-up column.
Ironically, given he found out his HIV status via a thwarted trip to the US, he is now a frequent visitor there. “From the time I started writing the column, I have been invited internationally to speak at conferences about HIV,” he says. His most recent trip was to Boston.
Advice and support
Ngoma says his newspaper was very poor at covering HIV and health issues – until recently. “Every Tuesday we have a health page now; it covers cancer, hypertension, TB, HIV.”