|20 lawmakers undergo voluntary HIV tests|
|Thursday, 21 June 2012 12:00|
TWENTY parliamentarians yesterday underwent public voluntary counselling and testing for HIV.
The lawmakers took the initiative in their drive to encourage the grassroots to follow suit.
Twenty-three Parliament members of staff were also tested.
Zimbabwe Parliamentarians against HIV and Aids (Zipah), a voluntary organisation aimed at promoting awareness and fighting stigma associated with HIV and Aids, organised the event.
Addressing the participants before undergoing the HIV test, Clerk of Parliament Mr Austin Zvoma hailed the legislators, saying theirs was a landmark initiative.
“I want to recognise this landmark initiative that has been spearheaded by Honourable (Blessing) Chebundo and supported by colleagues from across the political divide.
“It is a momentous occasion when politicians who are not known to walk their talk are beginning to do that,” Mr Zvoma said.
In his welcome remarks, Mr Chebundo, who is the Zipah chairman, said the number of MPs who have voluntarily shown interest in getting tested was growing.
He said the Zipah initiative will be a model and encouraged the public to open up about their HIV status and contribute significantly to efforts of fighting the HIV and Aids pandemic.
“As MPs we hold high esteemed offices and the public will take heed from us,” he said.
Mrs Catharine Sibanda, a counsellor from Population Services International, made a presentation on HIV and Aids and testing and counselling process to the legislators before they were tested.
Among the first legislators to be tested were Mr Jeffryson Chitando (Masvingo Central) and Ms Thabitha Khumalo (Bulawayo East), Senator Rorana Muchihwa (Hwata) and her husband Mr Godwin Muchihwa.
Mr Chitando, who was the first legislator to be tested, said this will send a strong message to the public.
“This is a major initiative by parliamentarians to lead by example in the contribution to combat the spread of HIV and Aids,” Mr Chitando said.
He said the public testing will influence thousands of people not only in their constituencies but across Zimbabwe.
Mr Chitando indicated his willingness to be circumcised saying it is beneficial in reducing HIV and Aids infections.
Ms Khumalo said the public HIV and Aids tests will be a model to the general populace.
“The initiative Zipah has taken will be well received by the public and be a model as people will be saying politicians are getting tested. More people will open up about their HIV status,” she said.
The media, she said, should act responsibly in covering the campaign and desist from sensationalising it.
PSI official Mr Shame Muparutsa said although they were not allowed to disclose the status of an individual, legislators were free to invite and disclose their results to the public at a different forum.
The testing and counselling of MPs, which started yesterday, will run until tomorrow and will also see male legislators undergoing circumcision at a makeshift clinic set up at Parliament.
Zipah was launched in March this year as part of an immediate response by legislators to the HIV and Aids pandemic.
The organisation also works in conjunction with People Living with HIV and Aids, the National Aids Council and other Aids service organisations to disseminate HIV and Aids information in their constituencies. The campaign will also be spread to provincial, district and constituency levels.
The Zipah membership currently stands at 175 and 25 Parliament workers who are technical members.
Zimbabwe has undertaken several initiatives to fight HIV and Aids resulting in a marked decline in the prevalence rate, which stands at 13,7 percent.