Support is what we need

On Sunday the 16th of June something happened to me, I recently wrote an article to commemorate the Day of the African Child. Our local paper The Daily News ran the story and I was so happy. For those who could not get their hands on the Sunday edition of The Daily News here is the article ( of course the heading was changed):

Fear or Ignorance?

Is it possible for a child who is ten, nine, five or maybe thirteen to go and get tested for HIV without a guardian or caregiver? The answer is “No”. In Zimbabwe, only children 16 years of age and above can consent to an HIV test themselves, unless the minor is already married or a parent.

The Day of The African Child has come once again and at this time the nation is looking at social and cultural barriers to services for children. So as a young Zimbabwean, I ask “why is it not possible for a child to get an HIV test on their own?” Why do they still have to wait for someone to make that decision for them? We all know that HIV testing is the entry point for HIV treatment and care. If families do not take their children for testing, this is delaying many children from getting life-saving drugs. Now in Zimbabwe, children with HIV are growing up in to adulthood, getting married and having HIV negative children of their own. Yes, it is all possible! But only if the child knows his HIV status and this is only possible by going for an HIV test.

We as young people acknowledge the fact that children are yet to be responsible adults but why not give them the benefit of the doubt? Why not ask them for their views? You would be surprised at the level of maturity of many of the so called ‘children’ – many of whom have witnessed their own parents and siblings die with HIV. We are no longer in the dark ages. We read, we see, we hear what is going on around us in this world with HIV. Yet how many parents will drop what they are doing to support their child when he says “I want to be tested for HIV?” Will you berate them, be understanding or be out rightly ignorant?

Since the 1980s until early 2000 HIV was seen as a contagious, disgraceful and shameful disease. People thought if you even went near, shared a cup or even shook hands with an infected person you would automatically become HIV positive. Stigma and discrimination has been walking hand in hand with the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus but on what grounds?

Why are we still discriminating people with HIV, especially children born with the virus? Is it their fault, did they have a say as to wanting the virus? Are adults afraid of what people will say about their child when the HIV test is positive? Do people shy away from getting tested because they still remember the way HIV was depicted in years gone by – that of a sickly, unhealthy, skeletal body with thin hair. Do we fear rejection from friends and family or worry will be made the centre of gossip in your respective areas? Is it that you are so naïve in thinking that your child cannot have the disease since you come from a certain background so you are protected from contracting HIV/AIDS? Is it because you look healthy and you have the perfect weight?

Long gone are the days when an HIV infected person looked pitifully thin or sick. Besides, who said you can tell whether a person is HIV positive or negative just by judging with the naked eye? I asked parents whether they would allow their children to get tested for HIV. Most came up with a resounding “why not? In this day and age it would be stupid not to get tested”. But how many have actually done it?

The Government of Zimbabwe states that it is your right to know your HIV status regardless of age! As you move around Zimbabwe, billboards scream at you “Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination, and Zero AIDS-Related Deaths”. Another says “An HIV free generation-It Begins With You”. REALLY? How will we achieve an HIV-free generation if the children, the next generation, cannot have a say in their own health?

People, there is life after being found HIV positive. Knowing your status or that of your child is half the battle. Accepting and moving forward and living positively is the other half. You should be more worried about crossing the streets of Harare because of the mayhem caused by the commuter omnibus’ and not HIV.

So families, please help Zimbabwe’s next generation to access the services this country has to offer. We can get tested for HIV and put on treatment. But only if you help us to get there. I know my HIV status, do you? Find out where you and your child can get tested!