In as much as I agree with most of Jonathan Moyo’s alleged take on Tsvangirai’s sexual behaviour or misconduct and strongly disapprove of promiscuity in general, I do not agree with the alleged assertion that Tsvangirai should go for a public HIV test before he participates in the forthcoming elections.
I will use ‘alleged’ to refer to ‘Moyo’s views’ because I have no primary evidence of what Moyo said but I am reliant on a story from a news publication and the implied professionalism of the reporter. However, we know how journalism in Zimbabwe has become highly politicised, thanks in part to Moyo himself.
Assuming the story is a true reflection of what Moyo said, I agree the alleged reckless sexual conduct exposes him (Tsvangirai), the women he sleeps with and their partners to the risk of HIV infection yet I do not see why his HIV status should be public interest. What purpose will a public test and any result thereof achieve in Zimbabwe’s fight against HIV/ AIDS?
While it is understandable for the public to set and expect high standards of behaviour of their leadership in everything, we understand humans do bear inherent weaknesses that will see us falling short of set standards. Zimbabwean politics has set itself very low moral standards; it makes it difficult for us to start raising standards for Tsvangirai when we have a murderer and his friends leading the state.
Tsvangirai is an influential political leader but I have doubts over his public influence on morality. Zimbabweans are intelligent enough to make personal decisions on their sexual conduct; Tsvangirai’s behaviour is never going to derail HIV/ AIDS programmes in both the short and long-term except if he were to be president and decide that his government would not fund the said programmes.
I dispute that his bedroom matters are of interest to the general public except his numerous ‘lovers’. Zimbabwean public does not tend to take interest in sex lives of their leaders; I would have doubts over their interest in Tsvangirai’s liaisons. The media, which is not really the typical public, has shown a lot of interest for largely political reasons, but that does not necessarily translate to public sociopolitical mood. If anything, it does not appear to have affected his popularity, judging by the size of the crowd in his recent rally.
Public interest should not be used to influence and in most cases compromise ethical medical/ clinical codes of practice. If anything, public interest lies in the knowledge and reassurance that their private medical records remain confidential irrespective of their socioeconomic status or political affiliation or diagnosis.
We must never lose direction for simply perceived public interest. Confidentiality is everything in the health practice, the moment you compromise that you lose confidence in the whole system and the repercussions can be devastating when people start shying away from the services.
If the thinkable were to somehow happen and Tsvangirai was be forced into having a public HIV test and results published publicly that would certainly have an impact on the numbers of people coming forward for voluntary tests because they would not be sure if their data would be protected. We cannot predict with certainty the health impact of such action but there would be some effect on infection rate, diagnoses as well as delays in treatment commencement due to people shying away from formal health institutions.
The other problem with any public testing of the Prime Minister is the message that it would be sending out about HIV and AIDS. HIV testing and certainly the status is not one of the preconditions for a Prime Ministerial or presidential job and many other senior jobs including within the health sector for as long as the individual does not perform any invasive procedures.
HIV is no longer a death sentence that it was in the 1980s and 1990s; it is now a treatable and an effectively managed condition in many countries. What we should be working on is fighting the stigma associated with HIV infection. Instead of fighting stigma, Tsvangirai’s public show will reverse all the gains in that direction as the message would be that HIV positive people cannot hold high positions in public or private organisations yet the reality is that HIV does not in and of itself hinder people’s abilities.
A public HIV test by anyone, let alone Tsvangirai, is not necessary; were clinical decisions and practice to be primarily dictated to by public interest we would have surgeons performing public surgeries on public figures to prove a point. Private health matters should never be disclosed without valid consent. Health information should remain protected by confidentiality laws regardless of public interest for as long as there were no compelling legal or clinical reasons not to do so.