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Zimbabwe Lawmakers Take Public HIV Tests in Awareness Campaign

  • Tatenda Gumbo

Zimbabwean lawmakers started taking public HIV tests on Wednesday in a campaign seeking to raise awareness and fight the stigma associated with Aids.

At least 60 parliamentarians from across the political divide will have tested when the three-day program, which is also offering counseling services, ends Friday.

A number of male lawmakers will also be circumcised, a method clinically proven to reduce the risk of men contracting the Aids virus during sex.

Speaking to journalists outside a makeshift clinic near Parliament, House Speaker Lovemore Moyo challenged senior government officials, including President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to also go for voluntary public tests.

This, he said, would help the country deal with stigma that has long been associated with the pandemic in most communities, adding if the country’s leaders played an exemplary role, the fight against Aids could be easily won.

"I'm happy that MPs responded to the call, all what is left perhaps is to see our counter parts in the executive and judiciary also take a leaf from what we have done," Moyo said.

The lawmakers, however, said it is their right to disclose their status after testing.

The Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against HIV/Aids, a voluntary organization formed early this year to promote awareness and fight stigma in communities, is leading the campaign.

Group chairperson Blessing Chebundo, who was tested Thursday said more lawmakers are expected to join the program.

UK-based Zimbabwean gender activist Betty Makoni recently got tested and revealed her status on Facebook.

She told VOA lawmakers should reveal their results, adding holding back would perpetuate the stigma that surrounds the pandemic.

"We should not do things for window-dressing, so if you go for HIV and Aids and you don't reveal your results, it means you are still stigmatizing yourself and also perpetuating the stigma," said Makoni

Critics are questioning whether the drive will positively affect ordinary Zimbabweans.

For perspective VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo spoke to Community Group Health Coordinator Itai Rusike and Masvingo Central lawmaker Jeffreyson Chitando, the first ZIPAH member to be tested.

Chitando said the program is geared to inform people that it is their right to know their status regardless of the result.

But Rusike questioned how the program would translate to the ordinary Zimbabweans, who may be unable to access testing centers and treatment.

"It is important that parliamentarians also make an effort to take this initiative to the people, to their constituencies so that these services are available within the villages," said Rusike.