Eight percent of Zimbabweans have been failing to collect their results after going for HIV testing.
Statistics from the National Aids Council (NAC) show that of 603,000 people in Zimbabwe that went for testing in the last quarter of 2014, 558,000 collected their results and 45,000 chose to remain ignorant of their status, even after going for the test.
The reasons offered for not collecting are varied but include the fear of stigmatisation and a lack of preparedness for what may come.
A counsellor at a New Start Centre in the CBD, who declined to be named, described how the situation unfolds. “It takes about 40 minutes to an hour for one to get the results, and it is during this waiting period that people chicken out,” she said. “People need to prepare themselves before getting tested,” she warned.
The impact of this has been a negative bearing on the City’s efforts in HIV intervention whereby health workers are trying to achieve ‘the three zeros’: zero infections, zero deaths and zero discrimination.
Jairos Gumbi (38), an activist who is living with the virus, says that many HIV positive people wait too long to determine their status, by which time it is too late for them, and for their sexual partners too.
“The major reason why most of us die of AIDS early is because we go for testing when very sick and frail. It becomes hard to recover from the shocking news that one is positive when the body is already worn out by the opportunistic diseases that accompany the epidemic,” he says.
Gumbi adds that he got tested two years ago through the Client Initiated Testing and Counselling (CITC) programme. There he was given information and support towards positive and healthy living, including dietary and sexual advice.
“If I had shunned my results I would have put other peoples’ lives at risk while at the same time exposing myself to re-infections. It is impossible to make a sound decision health-wise if one’s status remains unknown,” says Gumbi.
Also HIV positive, Justin Gomo (name changed) of Sunningdale, says that this issue is still a sensitive matter, as stigmatisation is still rife.
“I once overheard two of my friends referring to me as an ‘HIV carrier.’ Don’t you know that he is a carrier? I heard them say,” Gomo says sadly. He says that the feelings of betrayal that overcame him made him regret sharing his status with the very people he thought he could trust.
Tadiwa Pfupa is the Communications Officer for the NAC. Discussing the issue of non-collection of results with Harare News, she said that men are the biggest culprits, attributing this to the tendency in some men to avoid medical intervention until they are very sick. She said that this is regretful, as no matter what someone’s status is, knowing about it is critical.
“Those that did not collect their results were not necessarily HIV positive, in fact many were negative,” she said.
Pfupa described women as generally more aware of their status because of the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission policy that mandates HIV testing in all pregnant women.
Visit the New Start Centre for HIV/AIDS testing and counselling at 40 Nkwameh Nkrumah Avenue.