Misconceptions/misinformation about HIV and AIDS treatment and scenarios for the HIV virus and the disease is one of the major setbacks in the fight against the pandemic. Some bicycle taxi operators in Mzuzu are still misinformed. There is fear of the unknown in some bicycle taxi operators, as they say if you feel like you have contracted the HIV virus you can start taking ARVs instantly without going for HIV testing and counselling (HTC). Can a person start taking anti-retroviral drugs before it has been confirmed they are HIV+? That is the question one would ask. “If it happens that I have had unprotected sexual intercourse and I have the feeling that I have contracted the HIV virus can`t I start taking anti-retroviral drugs without going for HTC?”, asked one of the bicycle taxi operators, who does his trade in the Luwinga area. His friends murmured, while others laughed at him, but the question had a meaning in it.
Fear of the unknown can cause people and communities to panic. Bicycle taxi operators are such people that need answers and they need to know the entry requirement for ART. Fear is counter-productive, when there are few answers people often speculate, which leads to lies, fear and rumours replacing real facts and knowledge. Furthermore, fear of the unknown may put walls up between people and contribute to the problem rather than supporting the solution.
One would wonder if this is just an individual issue. Probably not. The comments made through the community outreach session are thought provoking and help to humanise the magnitude of the gap in the knowledge between myth and facts. This has lead to a focus on encouraging participants to ask questions and share their preconceptions to ensure correct information is delivered. This is why Tovwirane HIV and AIDS Organisation, through ICS volunteers, are conducting peer education sessions targeting bicycle taxi operators, and youth in general. The project aims at empowering the targeted population with knowledge and skills in HIV prevention, care and support.
Written by ICS volunteer Agnes Nguluwe