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The fear of coping with positive test results prevents men from collecting them after being tested at various Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres (VCTs).
Rodrick Mukumbira

Sizwe Chavava, a 24-year-old man from Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe, cannot get himself to return to the New Start Centre, a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) centre in the city for his HIV/AIDS test results. He was tested in September.

"I can't get myself to return for the results," says Chavava. "I am afraid and can't stand what the results will tell me". "My girlfriend is waiting to hear what my status is but even if someone points a gun to my head I would rather bear that than knowing my status."

The mere mention of the words 'HIV test' results sends shivers through Chavava's body and one can really see that he is afraid of knowing his status. "I had to undergo the tests because my girlfriend demanded to know my status before we get married", he says.

Chavava says he underwent pre-counselling before the tests. Before he went through with the tests he says he saw a counsellor who told him the benefits of being tested.

However, pre-test counselling failed to have an impact on Chavava. It was only successful in making him undergo the test. He is now adamant that nothing will make him go for the test again unless he faces a situation that threatens his life.

Chavava attributes undertaking the test to "sweet talk" by the counsellor during pre-test counselling. "The counsellor was so polite that I easily volunteered to be tested. What was lacking was how I could cope with the fear between the waiting time and the results," he says.

But Chavava's is not a unique case. Matabeleland AIDS Council (MAC)-an AIDS control organisation reports a growing trend in people, especially men, who are not collecting their HIV test results. But statistics on this growing development are not available.

"More men are not coming back for their results than women," admits MAC information officer, Linda Ncube. "What is more pronounced in men we counsel is fear but women usually come back. What haunts them is how they will cope with the knowledge that they have to change their life style and cope in the face of being HIV positive. We try to tell them that having HIV is not the end of the world but that one can live for a long time."

Ncube admits that the counselling methods still have to be improved to tackle the issue of fear. "The HIV/AIDS message has been clear and everyone knows about the disease," says Ncube. "But what is lacking is how openness and dialogue can be instilled into people. One should know he/she is not alone."

Tendai Nhema, (36), also underwent an HIV/AIDS test but could not bring himself to back to the VCT for the results. His results were meant to accompany his application for a life insurance policy. But, due to fear, he had to forget about this insurance policy, which could have accrued millions of dollars for his dependents.

"I just thought the results would be obvious-positive," says Nhema. "I have lived a reckless life and that could have been brought to the open."

The stigma that HIV/AIDS only affects those who have lived a reckless life besieges Nhema. "You can't get AIDS if you don't sleep around," he argues. "I have slept with so many women without using any protective measure and my results are something I would rather wait until the last days of my life to know. "As soon as you know that you are HIV positive that is when you start thinning away and automatically die and I would rather not know my status."

Dumisani Ndiweni, (21), says he cannot get himself to be tested. He has attempted it once but, on that occasion, could not do it. He echoes Chavava's sentiments that the counsellor nearly made him undertake the test. "The counselling was not enough. I needed more than just being told the importance of undergoing the tests," he says.

The Family Counselling Centre, a Brethren in Christ Church run organisation based in Bulawayo, which begun offering HIV/AIDS counselling services three years ago, does not rule out fear but attributes the failure to collect results more to cultural beliefs that comes into play when the issue of what constitutes a reward or a punishment is examined. Counselling has nothing to do with the issue of collecting HIV/AIDS results, the organisation says.

"Many young people have defied all counsel and tests to have children and have chosen to have a baby than to remain childless because of our culture," says Pastor Luka Ndlela, a counsellor at the centre. "Ours is a culture that expects every married couple to have a child even if the ultimate price to be paid would be death."

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