Ahmed Bacar | November 26, 2012
With trembling hands and face full of anxiety, farmer Ali Mdohoma leaves the testing room. Mr. Mdohoma lives in Famaré, a village 35 kilometres south of Moroni, the capital of Comoros. He is anxious because he has just been tested for HIV.
The test result will be ready in half an hour. He waits patiently for what seems like an eternity.
Finally, the doctor opens his office door and calls Mr. Mdohoma in with a nod. Mr. Mdohoma hurries inside. Forty minutes later, he leaves the office looking as happy as a student who has passed a difficult exam. The test is negative.
He says: “This is a sigh of relief. [The doctor] asked me a lot of questions and gave me some advice, which gave me the impression that I was positive. Fortunately, I’m not.”
Before the test, Mr. Mdohoma, who is 35 years old, did not believe in the existence of HIV and AIDS Not in the Comoros or anywhere else. He thought that condoms contain a liquid that harms the reproductive organs, especially women’s.
When people talked to him about AIDS, he told them they had been tricked. He remembers, “I always thought that [to further] the campaign for family planning, the story of AIDS was used to slow down reproduction.”
But his attitude changed when he heard a radio spot and songs on HIV and AIDS broadcast on Radio Federation Tsinimoichongo, or RTF. The radio spot said, “Prevention is better than cure! Nothing beats health. AIDS exists and kills people every day. Go and take the test − it is anonymous and free.”
Mr. Mdohoma said the spot was persuasive. The songs talked about discrimination against people living with HIV, the stigma carried by those who are HIV positive, and how people can protect themselves against the virus.
Another farmer, Maoulida Soilih, never doubted the existence of HIV and AIDS in the Comoros. He knew someone whose sister was HIV positive. He says, “I think the best way to protect against AIDS is to know if you are infected or not. Hence the urgent need for all of us to take the test.”
RTF is a rural radio station in Tsinimoichongo, 28 kilometres south of the capital. Ali Mohamed Ali is the production manager. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, the station produces and broadcasts programs on HIV and AIDS. Mr. Ali explains, “The goal is to help raise awareness. It provides an opportunity for our listeners to call and ask questions about the disease.”
UNAIDS is the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS. According to a report published on the UNAIDS website in 2012, less than one in six young people aged 15 to 24 years in Comoros can correctly identify how to prevent the transmission of HIV through sexual contact. Preventing transmission through sexual contact is the best way to protect oneself against HIV. The report also states that less than 1% of Comorians are infected with HIV.
Ahmed Abdallah is the director of the National Directorate for the Fight Against AIDS in Comoros. The total population of the Comoros is about three-quarters of a million. Mr. Abdallah says the rate of voluntary testing is satisfactory. According to him, by 2011, 10,000 people had been tested. An additional 1200 people have taken the test this year. Mr. Abdallah predicts, “This figure is likely to double in the coming years as people begin to become aware, and many more will come to be tested.”
Ali Mdohoma knows his HIV status, and is happy he is negative. He is urging all those who do not believe in HIV and AIDS to get tested and know their status, as HIV and AIDS are a reality.