Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Manicaland Bureau

TRADITIONAL and religious leaders here have pledged to play their part in the fight against HIV and AIDS as Zimbabwe moves towards ending AIDS by 2030.

Speaking at a Zimbabwe Population Based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA 2020) religious sensitisation meeting in Mutare on Wednesday, stakeholders said a collective approach to eradicating HIV was necessary if the country was to meet its targets.

The engagement came after the launch of ZIMPHIA 2020, a survey aimed at improving the HIV treatment and health service delivery in the country.

The study was first launched in 2015-2016 with the aim of assessing the coverage and impact of HIV services and to measure HIV–related risk behaviours using a national representative sample.

The survey will interview approximately 20 000 individuals in 12 000 households randomly selected across the country and will provide door to door HIV testing services as well as information on how to access to HIV services among others.

Chief Zimunya said traditional and religious leaders have the power to convince people to seek medical assistance to ensure that there are no new HIV infections recorded in the country.

“If our people die of HIV, we as chiefs will be rendered useless because we will have no one to lead. We cannot have development if our people are dying of AIDS.

“We as leaders have the power to convince our people to visit the hospital for treatment despite their religious or cultural beliefs,” he said.

Speaking at the same event, Chief Mutasa reiterated the need for leaders to join the fight against child marriages as this was one of the major causes of new infections.

“As chiefs, we have to come up with punitive punishment for people who force young children into marriages. It is up to us, both traditional and religious leaders to preach the gospel against child marriages, then we will make progress towards ending AIDS. Let us fight this scourge and work together to end child marriages,” he added.

Manicaland Halaal Authority chairman Mr Anwar Khan said there was need for parents to monitor their children’s activities especially on the internet as most were being exposed to toxic material that could lead them to engage in sexual activity.

Speaking on behalf of National Aids Council (NAC) acting chief executive Mr Albert Manenji, NAC communications director Ms Madeline Dube said churches were initially at the forefront in issues relating to HIV but had taken a back seat of late.

“We are saying we want to end AIDS by 2030, this means we have to strengthen the work we are doing so that we have as few new infections as possible and ensure that those that are infected get medication for them to live a normal life.

Stigma will always be there but we should understand that it interferes with people’s effort to seek health services.

We should not leave anyone behind and churches can help spread the word,” she said.

Ms Dube urged the leaders to sensitise people in their communities on the ZIMPHIA study to ensure maximum cooperation.

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