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Alba Iulia
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Mataka: advocate of broad AIDS therapy

Photo Gallery Mataka: advocate of broad AIDS therapy

ASCENDING the lofty heights of limelight in recent times is Elizabeth Mataka, executive director of a non governmental organisation, the Zambia National Aids Network (ZNAN ) established in June 1994.Now she becomes one out of a myriad women to assume the universal role as Global Fund Vice Chair.

“The Global Fund was created as a public and private partnership, and today, we have taken a significant step further,” commented Dr Carol Jacobs, the outgoing Chair on the eve of Mrs Mataka’s election.

“By choosing representatives from the private sector and civil society to lead a multimillion dollar international financial institution, the board shows the high level of trust and collaboration that has been developed during the five-year life of the Global Fund,” Dr Jacobs said.

Prior to this appointment, Mrs Mataka has headed several NGOs including the Family Health Trust founded in 1990 by a group of trustees comprising private sector notables like Dr Roger Chongwe, Mr Andrew Sardanis, Professor Allan Harworth and Dr Guy Scott.

This seems to have been a springboard to later gains in social reform circles.

At the time, there was immense ignorance about the HIV/AIDS virus, how it is contracted and other factors related to its spread.

She has seen a radical change in press perceptions from how AIDS was attacking victims to the view that the country has managed to reduce levels of infection.

But hand in hand with prevention, there was need to tackle factors that fuel the spread of the epidemic, Mrs Mataka postulates.

While commending workplace programmes, she also believes in the universal access strategy which would place antiretroviral (ARV) therapy at the disposal of the public at large.

She was for private public partnerships in the advent of the Global Fund facility to take care of people who need treatment.

“We must agree that in Zambia, the private sector has not really been into the mainstream response,” Mrs Mataka observed.

She pointed out that for instance, ZNAN was helping 110 support groups including the Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS in the country.

“We contribute to making treatment for AIDS more accessible and as long as these people have timely medical intervention, they can support themselves,” Mrs Mataka projected.

As part of this effort, ZNAN recently donated a CD4 count machine to Kamoto Hospital in Eastern Province and another to Serenje District Hospital in Central Province.

“There’s no point declaring ARVs availability if people have to find money to get to treatment centres.

We should take treatment centres to accessible distances” Mrs Mataka suggested.

In this vein, ZNAN is committed to working with the government and the private sector in a quest to deliver HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria treatment.

She also registered concern over the phenomenon of defilements in the country which led to paediatric aids.

The daily basis reporting of this vice was beginning to raise eyebrows on whether people were now free to report these cases or these incidents were in the past but glossed over.

“We are seeing a rising incidence to child defilement.

It is not only criminal but also abhorrent to society,” Mrs Mataka declared.

She hoped the current trend of maximum sentences meted out to offenders would act as deterrent to would-be defilers.

In the 1990s Mrs Mataka was at the helm of the Anti-Aids Project which gave birth to 2,000 anti-Aids clubs in schools and communities countrywide including the Lusaka Home-based Care project at the University Teaching Hospital as well as the Children in Distress (CINDI) facility which established branches in Kitwe, Kalomo and Katete by 2002.

The CINDI project was at the root of mitigating the impact of AIDS on orphans and other vulnerable children.

“This work is difficult and you need people who can listen to you when you are frustrated.

This is very important,” She says in reference to the family which bolsters her morale and declares has been a driving force in her realisations.

When she is not in the thick of work, she likes gardening, light reading and chatting to a small circle of friends.

In her average-sized office off the Great East Road in Lusaka’s Rhodes Park, once in a while, the phone rings and the queries are cleared with articulate answers.

Or when she gives directives, she does so with a reassuring zeal of a perfectionist.

The interaction also exhibits a wealth of experience in coordinating matters on HIV/AIDS scourge.

Reverting to her appointment, Mrs Mataka excelled over 31 contestants according to poll results conducted by the International Council of Aids Service Organisations (ICASO) based in Canada.

Until recently, the GF acronym was immersed in a maze of other worldwide shortened versions normally glossed over as universal textbook verbiage.

Today, Mrs Mataka who is one of those in a closet about her age succinctly replied to a question on how old she was:
“I am an adult African woman” born in Botswana old enough to have four children and three grandchildren,” she trailed off keeping her date of birth a closely guarded secret.

But if she was old enough to have weathered the storms of wedlock for close to four decades, then anyone with mathematical wit may calculate her age!
She insists that her identity must revolve round her personality as a family woman married for 39 years to Robert Henry Mataka who is Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet.

However, her biographical data begins in the afore named neighbouring country where she did her primary education and later Form V in Francistown.

She was born in Botswana to Mr and Mrs Nombe who was civil servant in the neighbouring country.

Mrs Mataka is mother of two sons and two daughters, Mwila, Zeni, and Nomsa and Linda, respectively.

In her heydays, she was a keen athlete, participated in hurdles and high jump and briefly chuckles at the recollection of herself on the sports arena.

She later migrated to the University of Zambia in 1966 and took up studies in Social Work.

Her impression of Zambia then was that it was more developed than Botswana which had no university and instead the latter’s citizens went elsewhere for tertiary level tuition to Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa.

Thus, Mrs Mataka is one of the millennium age success stories to emerge from Zambia and Africa recently.

Of modest height and an intellectual disposition befitting an academician, one is struck by her articulate knowledge of what is on about in contemporary medics on HIV/AIDS at international fora.

She is by sight a serious woman and fluent English articulation remains a convincing attribute and pointer to her proficiency levels in social work.

She does not laugh about anyhow to a point of wringing her hands in idle talk but typically gets amused by the widespread notion that her elevation on the Global Fund hierarchy for a Zambian means more ‘Nichekeleko opportunities for the country”

One observer said: “As there are some men with feminine qualities, she is a woman with masculine qualities in terms of expression.”

Thanks to her numerous travails to the outer world where she mingles with various representatives at bilateral and multilateral levels she has harnessed her experience to effectively function in her domain.

After a brief, chat anyone would see the latent potential for her to teach or lecture as narration extolling refined intellect comes rolling down her sleeve without much effort, a characteristic that has eluded millions in the world of academia.

This virtue is manifest when she recounts factors behind Zambia’s AIDS prevalence levels.

She beams with more realism than superficiality displaying more depth of grasp over issues at play in the AIDS fight.

Mrs Mataka does not strike one as a person easily swayed by pretence or easily excited or moved.

“I believe that in Zambia now, the degree of awareness is exceptionally high. If the rates are still 16 per cent of the national total, then we still have a lot of work to do,” Mrs Mataka explains.

As a result of her achievement, many are beginning to know the overall purpose of the much heralded financing facility called the Global Fund.

Digressing a bit from a personal spotlight, the famous Global Fund stretches back to 2001 when the past United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Anan mooted the idea ostensibly for tackling the ravaging AIDS, TB and malaria onslaught.

During the second half of 2001, delegates from various governments and civil society met in Brussels several times to carve out a structure including the framework of the Global Fund.

The Global Fund functions through a mechanism called Country Coordinating Committee (CCM) which presents a country project proposal to the world Aids financing institution for funding.

The Global Fund requires that each country sets up a CCM composed of government and civil society representatives to facilitate the disbursement procedure.

The NGO representatives on the Global Fund Board consists of three groups of delegates.

Communities (NGOs representatives of the comunites Living with the diseases – HIV, TB and malaria have Dr Francois Ndayishimeye (Burundi) and Mr Javier Hourcade Bellocq – alternate incoming board member (Argentina).

The Developed country NGO group consists of Ms Asia Russel – incoming board member (United States of America) while the Developing country NGO group lists Mrs Elizabeth N Mataka as board member (Zambia) and Dr Bobby John – alternate board member (India).

However, as a country hosting a deputy executive, Zambia is privileged to have access to useful data on modalities related to the acquisition of funding for anti-AIDS projects.

But Mrs Mataka contrasts this privilege when she points out that while there, (in Geneva), we make ‘a conflict of interest declaration’.

You declare that if there is a discussion that affects you personally, then you should not be part of the discussion.

It is like if a board chairman’s wife applies for a bank loan, then the chairman should not be part of the proceedings,” Mrs Mataka explained.

“There’s no nichekeleko apo mwana” (my friend cut off a piece for me there) I can only ensure that Zambia’s concerns are shared with board committees,” she said.

It is evident that immense experience and dedication has formed the backdrop of her elevation to the current status.

Mrs Mataka has consistently worked as a social worker in the government and private sector in various leading capacities for 16 years in diverse aspects of tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria epidemic control activities.

As a personality, Mrs Mataka exhibits striking maturity and exceptional commitment in her role as a social work functionary.

When she speaks, one sees a mark far above average understanding of various situations affecting those afflicted with the infamous endemic
Her turning point seems to have been when she picked up useful experience at the helm of the Family Health Trust from 1990 to 2003.

She pioneered the formation of over 2,000 school and community-based AIDS clubs as care facilities in the country.

This innovation was her first community-based response to streams of orphans and vulnerable youth in Zambia.

She has also served on numerous boards at home and abroad and in this context is founder member of the Southern African Network of AIDS Service Organisations, the International Children in Need Network and the Zambia National Aids Council.

It remains to be seen how Zambia is poised to fare as a possible recipient of global funding for the dreaded univesal virus – AIDS with the advent of Mrs Mataka’s appointment to the Global Fund Board.

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