A National HIV Testing Campaign was launched on 14th July 2007 by Hon. President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete starting in the Dar es Salaam Region, with plans to roll out the testing throughout Tanzania in a later phase. Kiwohede was one of the organisations selected to carry out the testing in Tanzania at Kiwohede’s Katri centre for the scheduled two week campaign.
In Tanzania only 15% of the 36 million population have accessed services for counselling and HIV testing, and only 45,000 people undergo the antiretroviral treatment regime, despite 560,000 people being eligible for treatment. Globally for the next 24hrs 11,000 people will become infected with HIV and 7,500 others will die of AIDS related causes.
Over the years in Tanzania, the government through its various organisations has spearheaded the campaign to educate people on the importance of knowing the status of their health by undergoing voluntary counselling. NGOs have taken the cue and have established voluntary centres and counselling for HIV. The services are mostly benefiting urban-based citizens, whilst rural areas the services are deemed lacking.
The majority of people still have prejudices towards HIV-testing, there is a great stigma attached stemming from ignorance of the virus. Still today, many associate AIDS with immoral behaviour, bewitching and bad omens. Girls are targeted for sexual purposes, as they seem to be free from AIDS. Their virginity is taken because people think they will be cured, or for other reasons equally lacking in rationale.
The questions are, will people respond positively? Have we done enough to create awareness towards HIV testing? Have we properly prepared the post HIV testing counselling centres? Do we have measures to make sure people adhere to proper procedures pending the outcome of their test? Where are the laboratories for proper diagnosis after the tests to put forward candidates for ARV treatments, tuberculosis or malaria, which go hand in hand with AIDS?
Are we really ready to deal with post testing pressure from fragile groups like women and children, both boys and girls? The current guidelines are children below fifteen years of age are not eligible for HIV testing, but what about those who are sexually active? Do we have any arrangements to engage this group in the campaign and how? Whether or not the long-term strategy for treatment and care system for long-term AIDS sufferers has been intensified enough remains to be seen. But until we have answers to all of these questions will the campaign provide the backbone for long-term change or will the current public tide of opinion remain unchanged?
The government with support multiple donors have been trying to improve the public health facilities; from hospitals and clinics to diagnostic and laboratory facilities and even increasing the number of trained medical personnel. Given these changes, I hope there is an opportunity for a better life even for those who test HIV positive. It is important for our Government to draw up a lesson from this first campaign in order to improve planning and heighten impact in the following 3 rounds of campaigns, which have been scheduled for the southern highlands, Northern and central part of Tanzania.
Let us all grab this opportunity and take action now, because HIV/AIDS has gone too far in our country. It is wiping almost 122 teachers every month, and left us with 2.1 million orphans. Kiwohede is targeting about 4000 girls and boys in this campaign, and together we hope to make a difference and change things for the future.
Written by Justa Mwaituka