June 20, 2012
Sixty-one Zimbabwean lawmakers have volunteered to undergo public HIV testing and counseling on June 22 to raise public awareness of the disease and fight stigma. Twenty-eight male legislators also will undergo circumcision, which research has shown reduces men's risk of contracting HIV through sex.
"We want to inspire the people that we represent," said lawmaker Blessing Chebundo, chair of the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against HIV/AIDS, which formed in March.
Chebundo explained that the lawmakers will not be obliged to publicize their HIV test results. While members of the public and AIDS advocates applaud the move by the lawmakers, some say not revealing their HIV results weakens the outreach.
Sipho Mahlangu, of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said: "It's a welcome development, but we expect one or two, or all of them to come out in the open and share their results. This will be the basis of their advocacy to create greater awareness."
"The point is never to publicize one's results," Chebundo responded. "The point is for people to be able to know their status and act responsibly. And when the nation as a whole knows the level of infection, we are then able to make proper arrangements in terms of prevention."
Zimbabwe has seen a steady decline in HIV prevalence over the past ten years due to heightened public awareness and fear of infection, according to a survey published in February 2011 by the US journal PLoS Medicine. In addition, experts say increased condom use and steady supplies of HIV drugs from donor agencies have played a vital role.