By Mlondolozi Ndlovu
Harare, May 25, 2016 – ZIMBABWEAN student and youth groups have dismissed recent reports that half of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) students have tested HIV positive.
State media last week attributed the shocking revelations to the institution’s Vice Chancellor Levy Nyagura.
Soon after the publication, social media went abuzz with some questioning how a supposedly enlightened group of individuals in our society would still miss the wide education that has been led around the disease through indulging in unprotected sex.
However, reproductive health youth organisation SAYWHAT said it would not read much into the story, adding the claims were both unfounded and had a risk of misleading the nation on its HIV health targets.
“We consider this article to be sensational, misleading and tantamount to fuelling stigma. Overally, the story has a massive potential to reverse national health goals like the 90-90-99 vision,” said the organisation.
The 90-90-90 vision is a strategy in which Zimbabwe and different countries have set a year 2020 target of having atleast 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV infection to receive sustained ARV therapy, 90% of all people receiving ARVs to have a 90% viral suppression and 90% of all people living with HIV to know their status.
The organisation noted that whilst there was a high prevalence among the young people in Zimbabwe, it was irresponsible for UZ to put the blame on students.
“While we acknowledge the reality of a high HIV prevalence rate among young people, the persistent portrayal of students’ alleged irresponsible behaviour as the major driver of this prevalence is grossly retrogressive and an unacceptable attempt to attempt blame to the country’s sexual and reproductive health challenges to students,” said the group.
SAYWHAT further bemoaned the failure by the research endorsed by Nyagura to give a sample size on how many students were tested.
“Surprisingly the story does not mention the sample size for readers to be able to measure the margin of error and conclude if indeed the reported figures are a true reflection of the existing situation at the college,” said the organisation, which further dismissed the research as too simplistic since it was not backed on any scientific evidence.
“For the university and the media to assume that the high number of students who tested HIV positive, to attribute solely to reckless behaviour is unfortunate and simplistic, especially against a back ground of any scientific data to backup that assertion.”
The Temba Mliswa led Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (YARD) through its spokesperson Tinotenda Mhungu also shredded the report and demanded an apology from Nyagura.
“We would like to immediately make it categorically clear that these lies, are unforgivable and require a public apology by the administration of the University of Zimbabwe in order to protect the former, current and future students of the University of Zimbabwe,” said Mhungu.
YARD concluded that the research was flawed and was an attempt by the university to limit the freedoms of students by not allowing them to visit each other’s hostels.
“His conclusion was flawed in its essence, and catastrophic in its significance, to the integrity of the students of the University of Zimbabwe. The University allows limited freedoms of association with regards to student on student visits,” they said.
The Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), on its part, blamed the spread of HIV in universities to well-to-do sex predators who roam university campuses to prey on economically disadvantaged students.
“These statistics are a direct product of unrealistic tuition fees imposed on students against a background of a decayed economy,” said ZINASU president Alister Pfunye.
“Most disgusting is Vice Chancellor Levi Nyagura’s reaction which clearly shows that he has lost all conscience.”
They blamed poverty as the reason why students were suffering and vulnerable to sexual predators.
“It is solely for these reasons that students are exposed to sexual predators who use transactional sex to lure the economically vulnerable students. Students are now forced into prostitution and intergenerational relationships for them to access basics,” he added.
ZINASU also blamed the STIs and the HIV prevalence on government officials and politicians.
“We always witness prominent government officials and politicians sex-hunting on campus. Even the recently held miss UZ modelling pageant had more non students in the gallery than students so it would be folly for a whole vice chancellor with PHD academic accolades to come up with such a misguided derivation as to blame students association in halls of residence as the cause for spread in STIs.”