Zimbabwean doctors and nurses are among the many locals who continue to dodge voluntary HIV and TB testing due to fear of stigmatisation, the Health and Child Care Ministry officials have revealed.
The country’s clinical health staff is among groups at a high risk of contracting TB as they often interact with patients who would be suffering from the disease.
As part of attempts to manage the crisis, government introduced well-ness clinics in which health staff are encouraged to attend twice a year to be screened for HIV, TB, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.
A health ministry official revealed during a recent media tour to TB treatment centres in Manicaland that doctors and nurses were, in fact, among many who continue to dodge the screening centres for fear of the unknown.
“They are just not willing to attend,” said the official while referring this reporter to the ministry directorate for official comment.
“You can’t even assign any proper reason as to why, but you find that if that programme (screening) is put, there are usually no takers.
“It is really encouraged that they do that because the environment that they work in needs them to know their HIV, TB status because they are always in contact with people who are coughing every day.”
He said the tendency was also common with non-clinical staff such as hospital general hands whose duties do not spare them from contracting the same ailments.
Deputy Director AIDS/TB Programmes (National TB Control) Charles Sandy confirmed the situation, adding that the ministry attributed the behaviour to stigma, among other reasons.
“We don’t have any evidence to provide answers as to the reasons for the reluctance but anecdotally it’s probably an issue of stigma related to the two diseases (TB and HIV), lack of adequate compensation if it gets occupational exposure and infection and probably also fears of confidentiality.
“The Ministry is therefore trying to address this by introducing a wellness approach to health services so that health care workers have easy access to the services they need by addressing their needs holistically in an integrated manner,” he said.
Reluctance to turn up for HIV testing is usually associated with Zimbabwean men who fear being told they were positive.
Zimbabwe has the sixth highest HIV prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa at 13.5%, with 1.3 million people living with HIV in 2016.