By Catherine Murombedzi
RUJEKO STADIUM in Glendale, Mashonaland Central, was a hive of activity on Saturday, December 1 2018.
Zimbabwe joined the global village to mark the 30th anniversary of the World AIDS Day with the theme: ‘Know Your Status’.
Mashonaland Central has the highest prevalence rate of child marriages, at over 50 percent.
This exposes the girls to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV included.
The guest of honour was First Lady, Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, who affirmed the need to know one’s HIV status, noting the close relationship between HIV and tuberculosis (TB) as a cause for concern.
Knowing one’s HIV status, and if found positive, is the gateway to accessing anti-retroviral therapy (ART).
Said Amai Mnangagwa: “There are still people who, on account of fear or stigma, are still avoiding HIV testing and therefore cannot access anti-retroviral therapy.
“One of the major drawbacks to our national response to HIV and AIDS has been widespread stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV on account of their status…we need to strengthen programmes focusing on changing people’s attitudes … as a building block towards everyone knowing and appreciating their status.
“Let me emphasise that we all have a status, whether positive or negative.
“For those who are negative, knowing one’s status has benefits of reinforcing positive behaviour change and quitting risky sexual behaviour.
“Most of you know that I am very passionate about women and children’s health.
“Over the past 12 months, I have led campaigns to get women screened and treated for cancer and pregnant women to be HIV tested for their own health and that of their babies, complimenting the work by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“My work has also included advocacy against child marriages, which put young girls at the risk on both HIV and cervical cancer acquisition.
“As we commemorate World AIDS Day, we need to think about ways in which we can promote uptake of testing for HIV and screening for other sexually transmitted infections, cancers and tuberculosis.”
Amai Mnangagwa said there was need to vigorously promote HIV testing, particularly among pregnant women, youths, adolescent girls, young women, sex workers, and other hard-to-reach key populations.
No child, she said, must ever again be born with HIV.
Mashonaland Central has a population of 1 139 940, of which 95 458 are adults.
Of these, 101 147 are on ART with 5 446 being children.
The province has eight districts.
Statistics from the National AIDS Council, (NAC) show Mazowe and Mount Darwin have the largest number of people living with HIV with a prevalence rate of 11,5 percent.
Amai Mnangagwa called on authorities to be vigilant on unfounded claims by faith leaders.
“Let me stress that ARVs are the only known method for reversing AIDS and suppressing viral load,” she said.
“As such, I would like to call on health and drug watchdog institutions to remain vigilant against any people who make unscientific claims about any herbal or spiritual discoveries of AIDS treatment.”
With HIV testing as the entry point to regaining health for those infected with the virus, everyone needs to know his/her HIV status.