Whereas men tend to get tested by proxy, our spouses or partners test either of their own volition or as part of antenatal care. I must confess that my fear is not out of a lack of information, for I have read anything an ordinary person would want to know about the pandemic and can pass a basic HIV and AIDS quiz. On the other hand, I work and interact with colleagues who are living with the virus. Further, my nuclear as well as extended family has been affected – like every other family in Sub Saharan Africa.
However, the discourse on HIV and AIDS is yet to translate into our day-to-day interaction. The syndrome is still couched in the negative. The stigma of those already living with the virus makes it more difficult for those newly diagnosed to think of AIDS like any other chronic illness.
So many men are still dead scared of the pandemic. Take for instance one long day when my wife Carol decided to undergo an HIV and AIDS test as part of antenatal care. I dreaded receiving a call from her and I do not speak only for myself. I know some friends who dread the antenatal visit which involves voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) for pregnant women. When I asked Carol about her decision to get tested, she responded casually and expressed the need to protect the unborn child.
Carol gave birth to our third daughter Wandile at the end of August through a horrendous caesarean. Being the first person to hold the baby, I told Carol there would be no more. Whilst happy to receive a new family member, a few things haunted me. I had refused, ducked and dived over the issue of being tested together with my spouse. I pretended to be busy and concocted travel plans. No wonder I did not want Carol to call me the day she decided to take an HIV and AIDS test. Fear overtook me during the pregnancy.
While admiring and loving my new daughter one afternoon, it struck me that I could do something far more important for her than buy diapers and baby food. I decided that my best gift to her wellbeing would be to know my HIV status and not rely on my wife’s results.
The next day I passed by a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) centre and waited for two torturous hours to receive the results. When they called the pseudonym “David” for the results presentation, I almost did not hear it. They ushered me in the opposite direction to a counselling room far away from the one I had received the pre-testing counselling.
While Carol did not call me when she received her results, I called her immediately after receiving mine with a palpable sense of relief. Well, what would I have done if my results had come back otherwise? I might not have called her but would have bravely gone home to discuss the next steps more so with my daughter in my mind. My fear went away because of the love for my daughter and wife.
Many things went through my mind as to what getting tested means for men; especially those who are married, who have children or are planning a family. I realise that while information is readily available, this information needs to speak to something about the person. It needs to speak to those aspects of my life that make me a father, a husband and a community member.
Society has not changed the way it talks about HIV and AIDS. As much as I know that I will not drop the minute I get infected, the subject of HIV and AIDS is still taboo in our society. Many fear the virus yet thousands more Africans die from malaria each year than from the pandemic.
There is still need to demystify HIV and AIDS by going beyond the basics and appealing to men to take responsibility. I have realised that it is not enough to be a breadwinner. I need to be a health winner as well.
I know I might not be prepared to confront the subject as easily as I have written about it. As African men, we still bury our heads in the sand. We need to bring more men into the fight against HIV and AIDS on the basis of responsibility and behaviour change. That means going out to get tested and not waiting to hear through our partners what our status might be.
Rashweat Mukundu is a Zimbabwean Journalist and freedom of expression activist. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.Post published in: News