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 Thursday 26 February 2009
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ZIMBABWE: "It's like waiting to find out if you will get eaten by lions"

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/PlusNews
Taking the test
HARARE, 23 February 2009 (PlusNews) - It is a typical hot February afternoon in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, but for Thulani Siziba, 33, it is an afternoon he will always remember. He is about to take his first HIV test.

As the executive producer at Radio Zimbabwe and host of a programme on HIV issues broadcast throughout the country, it seems ironic that Siziba has taken so long to heed the advice he so often gives his listeners to "go and get tested". "I have just never made the time," he confessed.

Siziba is unmarried, has no children, and says he always uses condoms, but an element of doubt about his HIV status is evident in his nervous laughter and efforts to avoid the gaze of every other person in the eerily quiet waiting room.

"It's like being thrown into a jungle and waiting to find out if you will get eaten by lions, or survive," he told IRIN/PlusNews as he waited to receive his test results. "My mum already lost one son to AIDS; she can't afford to lose another."

Siziba's older brother died in 2001 after a long illness, and although he never tested for HIV, the family is convinced his death was AIDS-related. "People tried to tell him he had an HIV-related illness, but he wouldn't believe it, even though he had lost a child to a similar illness," he said.

In the days before his brother died he kept asking to see Siziba, who had just moved from the family's hometown, Bulawayo, to the capital, Harare, to begin work at Radio Zimbabwe. Thinking it best to spare Siziba from seeing his brother emaciated and bed-ridden, his family never conveyed the request.

"I just wish I had had the information that I have now, back then," Siziba said. "I think my brother would still be alive today."

While waiting, he notices an HIV-awareness advertisement showing on the TV set in the corner of the room and repeats the now ubiquitous message of the campaign: "It begins with you," and pauses to think.

Although he knows the message is true, getting as far as this waiting room has not been easy. His brother's death – followed by that of his brother's wife – convinced him that HIV is real, but did not persuade him to check on his own HIV status.

He continued to broadcast programmes about the importance of being tested, HIV-related stigma, how to live positively with the virus, and other HIV/AIDS-related matters without considering their significance to him.

''It's not easy when the shoe is on the other foot. I can write all I want, but at the end of the day, I'm a human being who is scared of dying ... especially from AIDS.''
At a recent workshop for Zimbabwean journalists by the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), facilitator Aulora Stally suggested that the participants mobilise resources for a national HIV testing day, and was met with a deafening silence.

"It's not easy when the shoe is on the other foot," commented one journalist who regularly writes articles urging others to be tested. "I can write and write all I want, but at the end of the day, I'm a human being who is scared of dying, and especially dying from AIDS."

Siziba's suggestion that a positive HIV test result would be like being "eaten by lions" is understandable in a country where an estimated 1.3 million people are living with the virus, and unmet needs for treatment and food claimed 2,700 lives a week in 2007 according to UNAIDS.

A counsellor comes into the waiting room and beckons; Siziba sighs heavily and follows her, but returns a few minutes later. "A big boulder has been lifted from my shoulders," he says, smiling broadly. "Discovering the truth is something so uplifting, and now I know where I stand."


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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