Launching a new anti-HIV/Aids initiative involving members of Parliament, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said that he had seen many high officials die of the disease and urged legislators to be tested for HIV and work to stop its spread.
AIDS activists have long campaigned for high-profile officials living with HIV to come out in the open and join campaigns to help stop the spread of the disease which has taken a grim toll on the Zimbabwean population over the past three decades.
(People) I have sat with in Cabinet - perished. We haven’t announced it but I can tell you that quite a number of them – of those who have died – it has been HIV and AIDS. Not everybody but quite a number," Mr. Mugabe said.
He urged ministers and parliamentarians to be tested for HIV and disclose their status, saying the country's leadership must be open if it is serious about the battle.
Mr. Mugabe denounced extra-marital sexual relations or multiple relationships, which he said were hobbling efforts to end new HIV infections, urging behavioral changes.
The National AIDS Council says more than a million Zimbabweans live with HIV.
The legislative initiative, chaired by Kwekwe lawmaker Blessing Chebundo, aims to end HIV transmission among legislators and increase cooperation with other groups.
“Legislators and ministers are human beings like any other person," Chebundo said. "Of course they hold high esteemed offices and therefore whatever moves that they take are noticeable in the public arena" and present a role model to citizens.
But some voiced skepticism about the program, pointing to similar initiatives in the past that were actively supported by only a handful of parliamentarians.
Chebundo told VOA that so far 175 parliamentarians, including 25 staff members, have joined the program. He said the first public testing will take place in two months.
Monika Mandiki, a health and women's issues consultant, welcomed the initiative which she said would help reduce the stigma still attached to HIV/Aids.
“There is also need for behavioral change among parliamentarians, even the President alluded that sometimes they are found to be a bit promiscuous,” Mandiki said.