By Lance Guma/Patience Nyangove
Dozens of MP’s on Friday underwent voluntary counselling and public testing for HIV in an effort to encourage other citizens to follow suit.
Blessing Chebundo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against Aids, told SW Radio Africa that “181 people went through the doors for testing and 23 males went through the male circumcision.” On Thursday more than 47 legislators, 22 outsiders, as well as 60 parliamentary staff went through the same exercise.
Chebundo could not provide the number of MP’s who took part in the exercise on Friday telling us: “We are still trying to separate the figures because when the MP’s went for the test, we had a huge crowd of people who had come to witness the occasion and they flocked behind the MP’s and were also tested.”
Among those who took part were Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe, Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo and David Mutambara, the current board chairperson of the National Aids Council. Mutambara went for the public HIV test and was among the 23 who took part in the male circumcision.
Khupe and Moyo revealed they are HIV negative. The Deputy Prime Minister said she was initially scared of going for the test when Chebundo, phoned Thursday asking if she would take part in the programme.
“Initially I was afraid of going for HIV testing, but on second thought I said to myself if I took cancer head on I will manage HIV. When I got to Parliament, staff from the New Start centre where waiting for me,” she said.
“I was tested and told to come back for my results after 20 minutes. I went into the Speaker of Parliament’s office; I was so jittery that I said no to the food he offered me. After the 20 minutes I went to get my results and I was told I am HIV negative. Normally I do not get excited about things but yesterday I was excited about my test results.”
Moyo said he was lucky to test HIV negative. “This public VCT and male circumcision exercise which began on Wednesday is a demonstration by Members of Parliament having heeded calls of HIV and Aids organisations and activists who called upon the leadership of this country to lead by example,” he said.
“In response to the calls the MPs have voluntarily submitted themselves to public testing and circumcision. Indeed this is a demonstration of leading by example. Yesterday (Thursday) I led from the forefront as head of Parliament.
“I now know my status. I was lucky to be tested HIV negative and I am happy. I say I am lucky because all of us do indulge and are also targets of this scourge.”
MDC-T MPs Gift Dzirutwe and Paul Mazikana were among the 23 lawmakers who stepped into a mobile clinic set up inside the parliament building to undergo circumcision. “The only person I feel sorry for is my wife who for the next six weeks won’t have sex, however after two weeks I will try to cuddle her and see what happens,” said Dzirutwe.
Mazikana added: “It was painless, as I was lying on the bed and the team was cutting my instrument (penis) I was thinking of my wife who went through the same process while giving birth because she had stitches, so I have done this for her that she will reduce chances of getting cervical cancer and also that I am always smart.”
“We are proud of them for setting the pace,” Blessing Chebundo said. He explained that although the testing was public, when it came to the results, “that is the individuals decision to disclose. I am told there were some members who disclosed to the media. We did not want to follow that because it is an individual’s decision.”
Motivating the exercise is research by the World Health Organization showing that male circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of getting HIV by up to 60 per cent. In the late 1990’s Zimbabwe had one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates but that figure is estimated to have more than halved by 2009.
Chebundo was keen to stress that male circumcision alone would not prevent people from contracting the HIV virus which causes AIDS. “We don’t preach that when you are male circumcised you should go for unprotected sex. Its just one of those measures, you have to have a combination of measures.” SW Radio Africa/New Zimbabwe
Blessing Chebundo the chairman of the Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against Aids will be the next guest on SW Radio Africa’s Question Time. Listeners can send in their questions using Facebook, Twitter or Skype by typing lanceguma, on e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and in Zimbabwe you can text +263 772643871.