Thursday, July 19, 2007

Testing Times

Journalists write stories to encourage people to test for HIV, but they may hardly get there themselves. And yet, research at the South African AIDS conference in Durban in April was quite clear that many people only begin to practice safe sex and alter their behaviour in healthy, protective ways once they know their HIV/AIDS status. (Sadly, only two percent of South Africa's population of about 45 million people has ever been tested and got their results.)

A random survey showed diverse opinions among reporters from selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa attending a journalist-to-journalist training programme ahead of the 4th International Aids Society 2007 conference in Sydney, Australia.

Mugove Hamadziripi, The Communicator Project, Zimbabwe, says he been writing about health stories for six years and has encouraged readers to test for HIV but has never tested. He says:"I have not tested. Voluntary testing is difficult, not only to me but to many people."

Robert Mukondiwa, The Sunday Mail newspaper, Zimbabwe, has reported on health for five years, and has been 'preaching' to others on the need for an HIV test, but has never thought of testing himself. "I am not yet inspired to test personally,” said Mukondiwa, who was a Henry Kaiser Foundation fellow in Mozambique and Canada in 2006. “The main reason is, in Zimbabwe we use condoms very often. To us, condom use is a currency, so we all use them. Above all, there is a general knowledge that most of those who go for voluntary testing are suspicious of their character because of their sexual life. My sex life has not been very active. On this issue I have been a good preacher, not a follower."

Hillary Bainemigisha, health editor for The New Vision Newspaper, Uganda, tells a different story. "I have tested five times. The first two times, I was so scared I didn't go to collect the results. But I received results three times, all negative. I am afraid I may live forever if I don't die of an accident," he says. Hillary's wife, a nurse, went for her last test this year and encouraged her husband to do the same, as parts of Uganda have a very high percentage of discordant couples (one partner is HIV+, the other is HIV -). And his children, by the way, are fluent in the terms used in fighting HIV/AIDS: his four-year-old son knows what a condom is.

Ansbert Ngurumo, Sunday Editor for Tanzania Daima newspaper, Tanzania, says: "I tested once, on request by the doctor, when I was sick in bed. That was May 2006; the results were negative... Voluntary testing is a big challenge to may of us, but testing and getting negative results is a life-giving exercise."

Esther Nakkazi, special correspondent with The East African newspaper (circulated mainly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) says she tested once when she was still at university. The results were negative. "Then I was not really sexually active... I had no boyfriend, so I knew for sure the results were going to be fine. I haven't tested since then," she says.

* Story by Ansbert Ngurumo, whose picture you see here. Ansbert is a renowned Swahili blogger and writer of the column Maswali Magumu (Hard Questions) and will be attending the Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown, South Africa, later this year.

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