HARARE - Zimbabwe's parliament joined a campaign this week to combat the spread of the AIDS virus, and the stigma associated with the disease. Dozens of parliament members were tested for HIV infection, and some of men in the chamber went a big step further - allowing themselves to be circumcised, which reduces the chance they might spread the virus. The campaign is led by a group known as Zimbabwe Parliamentarians Against HIV and AIDS.
After the speeches and music, 23 members of parliament went to meet a surgeon waiting in a nearby clinic. Leading the pack of MPs to be circumcised was Blessing Chebundo, head of Zimbabwe Parliamentarians against HIV and AIDS.
"Initially I thought I was going to have a lot of pain…It was imaginary in my mind… I feel like I can go in the football field and play the game," Chebundo said.
Male circumcision has proven to reduce the chance of HIV transmission by at least 60 percent. Chebundo said he now wants officials in Zimbabwe's unity government to do what Zimbabwean MPs did this week.
Three months ago, President Robert Mugabe said he worried that many senior members of his ZANU-PF party were dying of HIV-related ailments. The president said he believes that politicians revealing their HIV status will help combat the spread of the virus and reduce the stigma of HIV. But the 88-year-old president has not made public his own HIV status. No one knows if Mr. Mugabe has even been tested for HIV.
Marvellous Khumalo explains why he is among lawmakers who got tested and circumcised:
"It is for personal benefits… You would understand that being circumcised reduces the rate of infection by 60 percent. And I am doing this for the people I represent… to urge the men and boys from there to follow and be smart," Khumalo said.
MP Chebundo thinks the media has a role to play as well.
"With your help to publicize what we have done, I am sure people will come of their shells and follow suit and this is the intention of why we are doing it. We want to inspire the people we represent. From here we're going to our constituencies. We go as a group and preach and encourage... leading dignitaries to follow suit and this is going to happen," Chebundo said.
The HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe has dropped steadily for over a decade, falling to 13 percent in 2009. That still left about 1.2 million Zimbabweans living with the virus as of that year.