HEALTH Minister Henry Madzorera has unveiled controversial new plans for door-to-door HIV testing countrywide.
Madzorera said Wednesday his ministry is training thousands of volunteers who will knock on doors, test and counsel people in their homes.
He insists taking the tests would be voluntary, amid concerns by rights groups that the programme infringes on people’s privacy.
Tapuwa Magure, the chief executive officer of the state-run National Aids Council, said his organisation had made an input to the controversial programme expected to start within months.
Magure said an NGO called Total Control of the Epidemic had already carried out door-to-door testing in two districts in Mashonaland Central with little resistance from locals.
He told the Voice of America’s Studio 7: “The benefits of knowing one’s HIV status are very immense because once you know your status, if you are positive, you can now access further care.
“How it will work is that people will come to your home and talk about the benefits of knowing your HIV status and offer you an HIV test.
“If you want to be tested, you can go ahead and be tested in the normal private and confidential way, but if you decline the volunteers will continue to educate and encourage you to go for testing.
“Privacy and confidentiality will be the cornerstones of this campaign.”
Madzorera said the programme came out of a desire to make testing and life-saving HIV treatment accessible to people countrywide.
While lauding the plan, HIV consultant Monica Mandiki warned that the programme could run into trouble if volunteers were not properly remunerated.
She said: “What we have seen is that door-to-door campaigns and programmes are very effective because one is able to discuss with an individual in their own home environment where they are comfortable and can open up.
“But there are several challenges, like who is going to volunteer to do this work for the ministry? How do you remunerate a volunteer?
“Zimbabwe is a low resourced country. We are saying if people don’t have resources, how much time do they have to go door-to-door? And to expect them to do long distances doing voluntary work I think is expecting too much, it doesn’t work quite well for people that don’t have resources and are struggling to survive.
“So if the programme is going to succeed, we would really want to see the good planning so that people don’t travel long distances; that they are also remunerated and are given a token of appreciation, which itself leads to the question by who, and how much?”
Zimbabwe has seen a decline in new HIV infections year on year over the last decade. At present, 430,000 people are receiving free anti-retroviral drugs out of 590,000 who require them.
Magure said: “If everyone undergoes HIV testing, we believe we can easily offer treatment to all those who require it in the next couple of years.
“We have other initiatives complementing this new programme like male circumcision, and elimination of mother-to-child infections. Generally speaking, we are satisfied with our action plan.”