how some colleges and other national institutions are going about the release of information on HIV related issues is not only misleading but is unnecessarily causing stigma against students
The Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU) has dismissed a report in the Herald of 20 May 2016 under the headline ‘47pc of UZ students HIV+’ as ‘misleading’ and ‘sensational.’
The story, which is mainly based on comments by the UZ Vice-Chancellor Professor Levi Nyagura, claims that nearly half of the University of Zimbabwe students who recently underwent voluntary HIV testing were positive, prompting the institution to limit inter-residence visits between male and female students.
According to the report, a recent exercise conducted by the UZ showed that 47 percent of students who underwent testing and counselling tested HIV positive.
Speaking about the way in which the herald broke the story, Zinasu National Spokesperson Zivai Mhetu lamented the lack of adherence to journalism ethics by some papers in the country.
It is a public secret that the HIV prevalence rate is high not only among UZ students but also in the country where recent statistics put it at around 15%. That the HIV pandemic is real and is affecting a lot of young people is indisputable but how some colleges and other national institutions are going about the release of information on HIV related issues is not only misleading but is unnecessarily causing stigma against students from various institutions.
Just last year the National Aids Council (NAC) Midlands provincial coordinator, Mr Mambewu Shumba, said HIV prevalence had shot up in his province due to the ‘generous’ sexual behaviour of students at MSU yet he provided absolutely no research to back this sensational claim.
The UZ has fallen victim to the same type of unguarded release of potentially harmful information.
“If we were to depend solely on the headline in the herald, it is not difficult to see how one can be misled to believe that 47pc of all students at the UZ are HIV positive,”Mhetu said. “Never mind that the story goes on to say that only 47% of students who underwent voluntary testing on campus are actually HIV+. A lot of people just read headlines without reading the entire story so journalists should be responsible on how they come up with them.”
The Zinasu Spokesperson added that the herald report is a perfect example of how important journalism ethics such as truthfulness, credibility and accuracy are often disregarded by reporters who choose to sensationalize issues, a process that can best be described as gutter journalism.
Mhetu also took a swipe at the herald for not providing sufficient information on the subject in question in its story.
“That story suffers from what I would like to call information kwashiorkor,” Mhetu said. “It is silent on exactly how many students were tested in the exercise so as to give a clear picture to the public on the degree of importance that should be given to the results of the exercise. What if only very few students who are not representative of the entire student body at the UZ were tested? Would that warrant the publication of this story whose effect has been to cause alarm and despondency within the UZ student community and the nation at large?”
Turning to the move to ban inter-residence visitations, Mhetu said it was ‘ill-advised’ and ‘misguided.’ He said Professor Levi Nyagura cannot ban inter-hostel visitations solely based on the results of the testing exercise because it does not prove that inter-hostel visitations are the cause of infection for those who were found positive after the testing exercise.
“Exactly how does Professor Nyagura come to the conclusion that those who were found HIV+ during the testing exercise were infected on campus thus warranting his move to bar inter-hostel visitations? Do students have no life out of campus? And are all the students who were tested living on campus when the tests were conducted? Furthermore, is it absolutely impossible and unfathomable that some of those who tested positive were born that way or got infected before coming to the UZ?”
Mhetu further went on to say that attempting to curtail sexual activity by implementing the ban on inter-residence visitations was a futile exercise because ‘the UZ is an institution for adults not primary school children.’
“You cannot stop sexually active people from having sex by barring inter-residence visitations. If they want to have sex they will have sex . Barring of inter-residence visitations is not a new idea at UZ. It was implemented before but it did not stop sexual activity. Students started having sex in open spaces, bushy areas and under trees. The ban is akin to forcing students to practice abstinence when it is not their wish to do so. It will not work. If the UZ Admin is really concerned about the health of students it should endeavour to ensure that protection is made widely available to students. It is sad that all this is happening at a time when students have no voice because the Admin banned SRC elections.”
Mhetu said that the story in the herald and other stories on the high prevalence of HIV in certain colleges are going to affect students on the job market as employers will be prejudiced against graduates from instructions that are said to have high HIV prevalence rates. He warned that students are now most likely going to shy away from getting tested as a result of the herald report which will result in lack of treatment and poor health.
Zinasu Information Department – Press Release