Many prostitutes in the Zimbabwean city of Zvishavane are reportedly masquerading as Midlands State University students through the use of their identification cards to lure clients in the mining town, a move which has further tarnished the university’s image, an official has said.
According to H-Metro, the Midlands State University (MSU) Zvishavane campus director Professor Advice Viriri told the health and child care parliamentary portfolio committee and thematic committee on HIV and Aids during a meeting with students at the Zvishavane campus last Saturday that this has negatively impacted on the university’s image.
Professor Viriri said identification cards were being abused especially by females because they are more marketable in s*x work compared to any other s*x workers.
He said they were still investigating how the identification cards ended up in the hands of non-students.
“We have s*x workers plying in the town who are using the university’s identity cards to entice clients. Since the opening of the Zvishavane campus in 2015, there had been reports that s*x work had increased in the mining town while this had been attributed to the opening of the campus.
“We have however realized that some s*x workers who are not students were using our identification cards to attract clients. It appears their clientele falls for that and brags about dating university students.
“So on several occasions when these s*x workers who move around with students identification cards get into trouble and are arrested it is established that they are not our students,” he said.
According to H-Metro, Professor Viriri said he understands that some students are hiring out these cards to the s*x workers for a fee although they are still carrying out an investigation.
“So you can imagine how this has heavily impacted on the university’s image. We are still probing how these cards end up in the hands of these s*x workers,” he added.
He appealed to the parliamentarians to help them deal with the negative publicity on the university students’ morality and possibility of a higher HIV prevalence rate arguing that this has affected the students’ prospects of getting internships as well as permanent employment.
“The university has received so much negative media publicity and most of the stories have been based on unsubstantiated reports and claims. Most of the stories are not even verified and in most cases even the victims of the negative publicity have later turned out not to be on our data base,” he said.
Although he admitted that the institution’s students were not living in a vacuum hence also faced challenges that other students face, he said it was bad that some organizations carried out programmes at the university only to sensationalise their findings to the media.
Addressing students from MSU’s Zvishavane campus, Dr Ruth Labode who chairs the health committee said the negative publicity the university continued to receive was unfair and could only pose as an obstacle to the 90-90-90 targets.
Dr Labode said the university’s challenges were not by any chance different to any other tertiary institutions adding that they had similar challenges further arguing that the university had just been a victim. She said all youths between the ages of 16 and 24 years were at higher risk of getting HIV.
“Your challenges are the same as those that are faced by youths of your age groups elsewhere in the country and MSU is not worse off than any other University in the country.
“Statistics show us that HIV prevalence is high among youths of 16 to 24 age groups, so it is a national problem,” she said.
“NUST, UZ and other tertiary institutions are also facing challenges such as abortions, s*x work and all. This is a nationwide problem which has only been worsened by the economic challenges that the country is facing.
“I’m afraid this stigmatization due to the negative publicity will only see students not getting tested as they fear that the statistics will be recorded and reported, a move which can impede on the ending AIDS goal.
“Remove the MUS hat and wear the I’m a girl or a boy in Zimbabwe whose challenges are not different from your peers.”
Honourable Prince Sibanda who also sits in the same committee concurred that the challenges the students at Midlands State University faced were not different as he urged the tertiary institution’s clinic to offer friendly services to the young people if the country is to fast track the ending AIDS goal.
“Are you offering the students youth friendly services or you start lecturing them about being of lose morals when they present at the clinic. I’m a product of the MSU myself and I know that the services are not friendly at all.
“Stop lecturing these students and just counsel and give them youth friendly services. That is very crucial if we are to fast track the ending AIDS goal through the 90-90-90 targets,” he said.
The students who were in the meeting noted that the negative publicity was a cause of concern as they appealed to the law makers to help them address the issue where they have all been blanked as people with loose morals and possibility of a higher HIV prevalence rate had hindered their prospects of getting internships
Morality and possibility of a higher HIV prevalence rate hindered their prospects of getting internships as well as permanent employment.
“It seems employers prioritise students from other Universities when looking for attachment impacting negatively on our chances of getting employment because the general belief is that MSU students have loose morals.
“Even when these statistics on HIV and Aids are released we never get to hear of statistics from other Universities except those from MSU, this also promotes stigma among MSU students,” said one of the students.
MSU has the largest enrollment in the country with over 22 000 students studying through conventional, parallel, block release and visiting classes.
Tertiary students and youths between 16 and 24 years are among the key affected populations which the country’s HIV programmers are working closing with in HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes as they country seeks to fast track the end AIDS goal.