I have lost two people who are dear to me to HIV and Aids within one month.
Both were adamant in their refusal to get tested for HIV and take anti-retroviral treatment.
First my aunt tried to convince her son to get tested three years ago after seeing his failing health, but he refused. He succumbed to HIV and Aids in mid-August.
Second, I sat down with my sister-in-law and tried to convince her to get tested, but she refused, insisting that she was healthy despite her waning frame and other tell-tale signs.
As we discussed her health, a passer-by overheard us and drew closer, trying to find out if we could tell her HIV status by simply looking at her bodily outlook.
In my naivety, I blurted out that she was obviously negative, but to my surprise, she divulged that she was HIV positive, taking her medication and living positively.
She encouraged my sister-in-law to get tested and take her medication early for it to be effective, but all efforts fell on deaf ears.
I learnt of her passing-on two days ago and was so devastated. Fear and stigma stopped her from getting medical attention.
Many of us have lost loved ones to HIV and Aids, people who should have been walking among us had they gotten enough and timely moral support from relatives and friends and the churches they go to.
In my short life, I have come across friends, relatives and colleagues who are afraid of getting tested and knowing their HIV status.
I do not blame them, it is the lack of knowledge that is killing them.
The book Hosea 4:6 in the Bible says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
How many of us are knowledgeable about HIV and Aids or what it means to live with HIV and Aids?
Most of us have information that we have picked up from the streets, home, work, school and the bar, information which I believe has been distorted along the way.
Because we are misinformed, we tremble at the mention of HIV and Aids and suggestions that we should get tested. HIV has been made into this big, bad monster that is waiting to swallow us up.
My first thought at the mention of HIV and Aids is that of someone who has acquired the ailment due to promiscuity.
Someone who is lying on their deathbed, emaciated, diarrhoearial and has a highly contagious and incurable disease.
I vividly remember being told that those who died of full-blown Aids were wrapped in thick, black plastic bags and the coffin was sealed before being handed over to the family for burial.
No body-viewing was allowed for fear of spreading the virus.
In other words, HIV and Aids was seen as a death sentence and punishment for the promiscuous.
This inflicted fear in most people and led to the isolation and negative attitudes towards those infected and affected by HIV and Aids. This fear and stigma still lives among us.
Because of the stigma, we are afraid of a condition that can be controlled once one knows they have it.
By knowing and accepting your status, you are empowered to plan your future and that of your loved ones, make decisions that impact positively on those around you and our beloved nation.
HIV and Aids is not about the infected only, but the affected too.
It is about the mothers who lose their babies to the scourge because they are too scared to get tested, the caregivers who spend sleepless nights, breaking their backs caring for those who refuse to get tested early and later on succumb to HIV and Aids-related illnesses.
It is about the over 657 000 orphaned children who are living among us in Zimbabwe, children who end up living in the streets, begging and turning to prostitution to feed their siblings.
It is about the grandparents who are failing to enjoy their pension because they are taking care of their orphaned grandchildren.
It is about a nation that is dying because of lack of knowledge and acceptance, a nation whose workforce is being decimated by this scourge.
According to the National Aids Council, about 1,2 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV and Aids, and 657 000 require anti-retroviral therapy.
These estimates are based on the number of people who have been tested.
What about those that have never been tested? How many among us are unknowingly living with HIV?
Broaching the issue of HIV and Aids is taboo in most circles. It is not freely discussed among family members, colleagues or churchmates.
It is first and foremost associated with moral decadence. It is a shameful condition that people do not want to be associated with.
As Zimbabweans, we believe that it is contracted through unprotected sex.
HIV and Aids can be transmitted through other means, such as blood transfusions, sharing an injection drug needle, or accidents where one can come into contact with infected blood and from mother to child at birth.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 600 babies are infected with HIV and Aids each day in Africa alone.
Our leaders are calling for behavioural change – abstinence, consistent use of condoms, circumcision, among other measures, to curb the spread of HIV and Aids.
They are urging people to get tested and get medical assistance before it’s too late.
But are they going to the grassroots educating people about the benefits of knowing your status early?
It is this same lack of knowledge and poor information dissemination that is spreading Ebola in West Africa.
People are hiding their sick relatives, shunning heath centres because they do not know much about the Ebola virus.
They have turned against medical practitioners who are assisting them.
Had they gotten adequate information, they would have been co-operative and not hostile towards foreign doctors as is reportedly happening in some Ebola-hit countries.
It is reach that matters not just information dissemination. Is the National Aids Council getting to the grassroots? Is their information reaching all Zimbabweans?
They should get into communities, schools and churches to ensure they reach all. They should not take it for granted that everyone has adequate information on HIV and Aids.
Church leaders and other influential figures in our society should be at the forefront of the campaign.
Counselling should start before someone suspects they have been infected. Mindsets need be changed for the HIV and Aids campaign to be effective. Some people still believe that HIV and Aids is a death sentence.
The way I look at it, it is a condition that can be controlled like hypertension, diabetes and renal failure.
People who are living with those conditions take medication each and every day and some have to undergo hemodialysis two to three times a week. I am not saying people should throw caution to the wind because there is hope, but that we should not live in fear.
Fear can be crippling and most often leads to death not only physical death, but death of our dreams. Not just our dreams, but the dreams of our children and hope of our nation.