Zimbabwe's second national conference on HIV/AIDS continued in Harare on Tuesday as delegates focused on the role men can play in the fight against the pandemic.
Officially opening the conference on Monday, President Robert Mugabe got the attention of many in the country when he accused not only men in general but government officials of contributing to the spread of HIV through promiscuous behavior.
He urged a change in attitudes to fight Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Mr. Mugabe said men should take their place in the HIV response, not only for the sake of their own health but also for that of the country's women and children.
"The role of men in society is unquestionable," said Mr. Mugabe. "I know of cases of men, who even though they are taking ARVs are running from one woman to the other. These are not men I know because of my extended family, but because of my being head of government. It's so embarrassing."
SAFAIDS country representative Monica Mandiki said Mr. Mugabe’s remarks opened an important and necessary conversation. She told VOA Studio 7 reporter Tatenda Gumbo that while the conference will mainly focus on HIV transmission from mothers to infants, any discussion of the HIV challenge must involve the men of the country.
Coordinator Albert Chambati of the Justice In AIDS Trust said men’s role in defeating HIV/AIDS has been sidelined due to stigma, as the focus has been primarily on women and children – but men must take responsibility for failing to respond.
Sebastian Chairman, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV/Aids, commented that Mugabe’s assertion that officials are to blame for spreading the HIV virus is true based on his experience and observations.
He told VOA reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that his organization is concerned that high ranking officials take advantage of young girls and unemployed women.