ALTHOUGH HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zanzibar has remained below one per cent for more than a decade, a study conducted in 2018/2019 shows that infection is growing in special group which include sex workers, same sex (MSM), and drugs users particularly those using syringe.
According to the study there are 4,854 women sex workers in Unguja while in Pemba there are 700. The study also shows there were 3,000 male homosexuals in Unguja and 300 in Pemba island while the number of people using drugs through sharing syringe are 2,200 and Pemba 400.”
Members of the special groups have contributed to the spread, with prevalence of 12.1 per cent HIV, and 1.9 per cent Hepatitis B virus (HBV). The Executive Director of the Zanzibar AIDS Commission (ZAC) Dr Ahmed Mohammed Khatib says increased awareness is vital to curb HIV and AIDS spread.
“We need collaboration. People and media have a greater role to play,” Dr Khatib said at a recent meeting with the media. He appealed to journalists and the media to continue cooperating with the ZAC in continuing to educate the community, especially in the special groups.
“Without preventing the spread in the special group, we may be at risk to have an increase in prevalence.” Journalists who attended the meeting, promised to work with ZAC to help to educate the people on the risks for increase prevalence of HIV and AIDS.
ZAC’s Saadat Sihaba said that although there has been admirable progress in preventing spread of HIV, the media should know about the existing challenges including stigma, discrimination, and the spread in special groups. “The level of awareness and understanding of HIV have increased among people in Zanzibar including going for HIV screening, and ignoring taboos like mentioning condoms and ARVs in public,” he said.
However, he said, HIV stigma is still a problem, many people are still too afraid to get tested - or even, in some cases, use condoms, due to stigma. He said this is still an issue for the media to cover.
Mr Sihaba says there are still many unreported stories about HIV, but warned against use of terms to describe HIV and people living with it and that the media needs to step up to promote a better understanding of the illness including in special groups.
They said that use of words like ‘unlucky people,’ ‘cursed people,’ ‘sufferers’ to refer to people living with HIV/AIDS in the community should be discouraged and that stigma has been one of the issues that fuels HIV spread, and that there is need to train the media on how to minimise harm in covering stories on HIV and report HIV in less stigmatising ways.
The facilitators said that media practitioners training aimed at bringing together media practitioners to be the voice of people infected by HIV, and help in prevention “take advantage of the HIV/AIDS Media guide in your reporting.”
Mr Sihaba urged journalists to always remain ethical and professional in reporting on issues of HIV/AIDS to minimise harm and avoid misinforming people who largely depend on the media for information.
According to the ‘Tanzania HIV/AIDS and Malaria Indicator Survey (THMIS),’ Zanzibar with a population of more than 1.3 million people, has about 13,000 people living with HIV plus (PLHIVs). These people make 1.2 per cent of population in Unguja and 0.3 per cent in Pemba.