PEOPLE coming for HIV, Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cervical cancer screening services during moonlight testing sessions are more compared to those who seek Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services during the day at major hotspots in Mashonaland East.
By Michael Gwarisa in Mash East
The program is dubbed moonlight because the tests take place at night to help protect those who fear being stigmatised by being seen visiting the centres during the day. According to the National Aids Council District Aids Office for Mrehwa, the open air daylight session at Kadzere shopping centre managed to test 108 people, while seven tested positive, five were initiated on Anteretroviral therapy (ART), five were circumcised, five STIs were and five treated.
On the other hand, the Moonlight session at Musami tested 167 people where 16 people tested positive, with two of them already on ART and six were initiated. 23 men were circumcised while 33 women came for Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Camera, (VIAC). The moonlight session also managed to screen 23 STIs and treated 11 cases.
Speaking to the National Aids Council (NAC), District Aids Coordinator for Mrehwa Letwin Chanakira on the sidelines of a Moonlight Testing session at Musami, she said night testing had emerged to be a useful HIV/AIDS testing and STI screening tool in all the five hot spots in the area which include Macheke, Mrehwa Centre, Madamombe, Kadzere and Musami.
“Today we are having an HIV testing services (HTS) campaign, providing HIV testing, voluntary male circumcision services and STI treatment. Kadzere is one of the hotspots in Mrehwa districts, Mrehwa districts in popularly known for having one of the highest STI cases in Mashonaland East province, we always have the highest in the province.
“As for moonlight testing, it has come to our attention that most people are free to come for testing in the evening, away from the public eye. Most fear to test during the day for fear of stigma and discrimination. At these hotspots, we are targeting those groups whom we believe are vulnerable or exposed more to the diseases than others. We are targeting sex workers, women, young people and men, we discovered that men usually are not forthcoming when it comes to testing so by moving in close to them, we discover that more of them are coming for testing,” said Chanakira.
She added that, Mrehwa district records a total of 3000 STI cases per annum which translates to about 1000 STI cases per quarter and Kadzere alone records plus 100 STI cases per month.
“We have a number of prevention programs we are doing, for this area specifically we have HTS campaigns and STI campaign as well as outreach clinics for sex workers where we just come and speak to sex workers. We also do campaigns on cancer screening. When it comes to sex workers, each area has got what they call the queen, if you get in touch with the Queen, you would have gotten in touch with everyone.
“The queen, especially the one at Musami has a register of all the sex workers who operate in that area. There was a time when most of the sex workers, about 13 of them had concentrated an STI from a single male client, she called our office and we came and assisted.”
Mrehwa district is also home to a number of minor sex workers within the ages of 13 and 15 and issues of multiple concurrent partners and inconsistent use condoms has been singled out as a major drier of STIs in the area.
Meanwhile, NAC Communications Officer, Tadiwa Nyatanga said Moonlighting testing was giving people options when it comes to testing and screening and members of the public were more comfortable getting tested during the night.