It?s estimated that well over 25 percent of the adult population in Zimbabwe is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Yet, the average Zimbabwean does not have access to the latest HIV fighting drugs or the money to buy them. VOA?s Joe De Capua tells us about one woman who?s helping others in her country fight the disease holistically.

Lynde Francis says she?s living proof that a person can fight back against HIV, even without the latest anti-retroviral medications.

She says, ?When I was diagnosed they told me I had probably three to five years (to live). And I said bull_____! I will live to see my grandchildren. That was in 1986 and now I have five grandchildren. So, I?ve done that and now I?m looking forward to my great grandchildren.?

Ms. Francis is executive director of a counseling clinic called The Centre, located in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. It?s run by and for people who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Ms. Francis calls HIV/AIDS a national disaster. She says, ?We are losing 2,000 people a week to this disease. We have a situation where instead of having any response, there?s a complete gap, a complete vacuum. Ten years ago, fifteen years ago, we had a very good health infrastructure and health services and good primary care delivery. Now we have nothing.?

She blames that on a mismanaged economy, World Bank and IMF reforms, supporting the Democratic Republic of Congo?s war against rebels, and the continuing drought.

?Whereas 10 or 15 years ago I was dealing primarily with the problem of HIV,? she says, ?I am now dealing primarily with the problem of poverty, of malnutrition because of poverty.?

She says the first step in helping patients is to convince them it?s better to live with HIV than to die from AIDS.

?This virus doesn?t want you dead,? she says. ?We ask them, do you think this virus is trying to kill you? And the patient will usually say, yes. And we say what happens to the virus if you die? And they say, well, obviously it dies as well. We say, do you think it wants to die? And the patient will say I suppose it doesn?t. And we say, no, if the virus kills you it?s committing suicide. And at this point they start to smile. They start to say, well, I never thought of it like that. And we say this virus is a parasite and it can only survive if you survive. So who is in charge

She explains this assures people that they are not helpless victims. She says only about 40 of the 2,000 people helped by The Center are taking anti-retroviral drugs, which were obtained by a charity group. Most are put on a holistic program grounded in nutrition.

She says, ?We teach them to revert to the traditional type of cuisine that used to be eaten before Western foods came in and become so widely accepted. Things that are not refined, not processed, don?t have additives. Things are that are indigenous and in season. Low fat, no sugar, no stimulants. Virtually no read meat and pork, but lots of chicken and fish and beans and lentils.?

The executive director of the Harare-based clinic says this is coupled with social and spiritual support along with stress management techniques, including meditation and yoga.

Lynde Francis says of the more than 2,000 people who come to The Center, fewer than 500 have died. She stresses the vast majority are in good health, including many, who like her, have been infected for more than 10 years.

She says she hopes to give a presentation about her work at this year?s 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona.