Society has classified AIDS prevalence as having a face of a woman, but in fact AIDS mortality has the face of a man.
Notwithstanding, 31 year old Piyo Malefula, says testing for HIV is a feminine phenomenon. “A man in his rightful senses cannot be enticed to go for testing,” he challenges.
Further, Malefula contests, “I cannot be told what to do by a woman. Most of these people who visit us to talk of HIV testing are women.”
Despite his reluctance to go for HIV Testing and Counseling Services (HTC), a research conducted in 2008 titled; ‘Engaging men in prevention and care of HIV/AIDS in Africa’ predicted that by this year, 2015, men will comprise 70% of AIDS-related deaths in certain high prevalence countries in Sub-Saharan Africa of which Malawi is part.
With such figures, why would a man oppose going for HTC services?
Julius Kamoto, of Murotho village in Traditional Authority Nkanda in Mulanje concurs with Malefula on why men shun HIV testing.
“I cannot go for testing because at the nearest clinic, most workers chat with people in this community. So I am afraid that once I go for testing they will publicise my results, whether am positive or not.” Says Kamoto.
The two assertions are not unique to Malefula and Kamoto. Most men have similar reasons for snubbing even general health services.
Although there’s this denial among men, it’s fallacious to deny the extent to which the HIV virus is ravaging our society. Almost every family is nursing pangs of the hurt brought by the walloping enemy.
Among the reasons for the futile endeavour being that when it comes to testing for the virus, it has largely been a woman’s show.
So why it is that women are more receptive to HIV/AIDS services than men?
Global Aids Interfaith Alliance (GAIA) Male testing Project officer, Mphatso Phiri, says the increase in the number of women as compared to men is due to the trapping channels which women are likely to fall into.
Among them he points out the antenatal and under-five clinics, which are a must for every woman during and after the gestation period. “The women are supposed to get tested before they receive any maternal health treatment. And this has had an impact in a way that the number of women being tested has tripled” says Phiri.
The compulsory HIV testing among pregnant women has also helped in decreasing the number of children born with HIV from positive living mothers.
In an era where the messages on prevention, contracting and caring of HIV patients have saturated our society, why would someone be against being tested?
Group Village Headwoman Kukada of Mulanje points out cases of male chauvinism as one factor discouraging men from getting tested.
She cites an example that most men in her area are family breadwinners and being found HIV positive undermines their role in society.
“Our society has bred a fear in most men that being seen at HIV testing sites one is classified as promiscuous. And this forces most men not to go for testing” says Kukada.
Kamoto concurs with her, “Once found HIV positive, there’s always a fear by many men that they will be incapacitated and hence be unable to provide for their families. And this raises fears of stigmatisation and in turn render them to being a laughing stock in the society” explains Kukada.
In a survey conducted by the GAIA in Mulanje district in 2013, it found that out of every 100 people that were being tested at their mobile HIV testing centres, 80 were female, while 20 were male.
In response to the dismaying figures, GAIA launched its special men testing project with funding from the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation covering 30 villages in Mulanje district.
The project’s manager points out that his organisation started weekend testing targeting men who are often shy to go in public places for testing and it has been a success.
This is evidenced by the number comparison of men who patronised GAIA’s mobile health clinics and those who attended the special weekend testing over a period of 10 months. 350 men got tested with the mobile health testing while the number tripled to over 1000 with the introduction of the special weekend testing for men.
Nevertheless, Phiri says the greatest challenge amongst many men, is not only the lack of male counsellors, but also the myths associated with going for HIV testing.
The project which is being implemented in all the six Traditional Authorities in Mulanje district, aims at creating a friendly environment for men to go for HTC services.
Has the special weekend testing been of benefit to the men?
Kamoto, 55, a father of eleven, says prior to the weekend testing many men shunned testing as the centres are crowded with women. But now with the weekend reserved specially for men, it’s an ease for them to go for testing.
“As we speak, almost every man in my community has been tested. When the testing team arrives on weekends, we have had some days when time forces them to stop testing while other men are still on the queue. Men have been empowered for testing through this program.” Says Kamoto.
The positive response from Mulanje points to one fact; if getting to zero in the fight against HIV/AIDS is to be attained, partnering the man is not an option.