POSTED: 04:07 a.m. HST, Jun 22, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 02:09 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2012
HARARE, Zimbabwe » In Zimbabwe's parliament, lawmakers belonging to a panel on health issues set up an HIV/AIDS testing and male circumcision center and said 20 legislators underwent the surgery on Friday.
Medical officials running the program said 107 legislators and their spouses have been given virus tests so far. Lawmaker Blessing Chebundo of the Zimbabwe prime minister's party said the campaign, the first of its kind involving the country's leaders, is a show of "political will" to fight AIDS.
Officials said more than 40 lawmakers have volunteered to undergo circumcision, a procedure that research shows reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
Infection in Zimbabwe runs at about 13 percent of the population but rises above 20 percent in the teens to early 30s age group.
Chebundo was the first to be circumcised Friday. He said the procedure was "safe and pain-free."
"I was a bit scared at first but I didn't feel a thing. I can confidently urge all Zimbabwean men to go through with this," he said.
He was told to expect minor pain after the anesthetic had worn off, to abstain from sex for six weeks and to come back three times for follow-up treatment.
The Zimbabwe circumcision program began in 2009 and has so far carried out 70,000 circumcisions, health ministry officials at the parliament house in downtown Harare said.
Chebundo, the chairman of the parliamentary panel on health, said until now the country's political leaders lacked commitment to combat HIV/AIDS. In Africa's polygamous communities, AIDS is mainly spread by heterosexual contact.
Louisa Norman, director of Population Services International, an independent family planning and sexual health organization in Zimbabwe and sponsors of the campaign, commended the leaders for "publicly setting an example" and urged all Zimbabweans to follow suit.
Among those who went for HIV testing were Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and House Speaker Lovemore Moyo.
AIDS counselors on hand at the parliament said an HIV positive result was no longer a death sentence and it has been proven worldwide that people knowing their status were able to receive anti-retroviral drugs, manage their lives and live longer.
Khupe said AIDS infection still carries a social stigma in Zimbabwe, but that should not deter a person from being tested.
"Don't worry about what people say, it's none of their business. Do it for yourself and your children," she told lawmakers, parliament staff and a crowd gathered in the central square outside the parliament building.