National Aids Council (NAC) Communications Manager Justine Mwiinga says although Zambia has not yet carried out research on the risk of HIV infection in barbershops, the virus can be transmitted if the instruments are not sterilized and there’s an exchange of blood between an infected person and someone who is not infected.

In an interview, Mwiinga clarified that the statement which was circulating on social media stating that barbershops were contributing to the spread of HIV was not issued by the National Aids Council of Zambia but the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.

In the said statement, which has caused panic among netizens, Zimbabwe’s NAC monitoring and evaluation director Amon Mpofu acknowledged that there was significant contamination of barber hair clippers with blood and blood-borne viruses.

He observed that if one used a barber hair clipper which had infected blood and sustained any cut during the use of the clipper, he or she could get infected with the virus.

“HIV is transmitted through fresh blood hence if anyone sustains any cut during the use of the clippers and there is blood, it can remain on the piece of equipment. If another person uses the same clipper and there is also breakage of the skin, he or she can get infected. We encourage barbers to invest in sterilizers and numerous clippers so that they don’t use the same for all clients. They should use a single clipper on one person and sterilize it before it can be used on the next person,” Mpofu stated.

He encouraged members of the public to carry their own clippers to the salon rather than risk getting infected.

“It is almost like using one razor blade. Though HIV does not exist in dead blood, they cannot take that risk. When blood cells die the HIV virus dies but we encourage members of the public to be cautious and ensure they only use sterilized clippers or carry their own,” stated Mpofu.

But Mwiinga clarified that it was the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe that had carried out such a research.

“To start with that’s not our report. That’s National Aids Council of Zimbabwe’s report. It follows therefore that we have no Mr Mpofu at NAC who was commenting on that research finding,” Mwiinga said.

Mwiinga, however, cautioned that although Zambia had not done any research on risk of the HIV infection in barbershops, the virus could be transmitted if there was an exchange of blood.

“We have not not done any research on barbershop risks of HIV infection. Generally HIV is transmitted through blood and body fluids, unless there is an accident of someone who is HIV positive being cut and there is that passage of that blood to someone who is not infected. Unless those haircut instruments have injured someone who is HIV positive and they have not been sterilised. And the same instruments are used on a person who is not HIV positive and is also injured. There is that exchange of blood. [If there is no exchange of blood] it cannot happen. It just cannot happen,” he said.

“HIV will not be transported through in a vacuum, HIV is transported through a medium of blood, body fluids, semen and so on. According to the research done in Zambia, it doesn’t include risks of HIV infection in babershop. Maybe when such a time comes when such a report [is done] maybe we might find something but no we don’t have that.”

Mwiinga further explained that the three major modes of HIV transmission included; unprotected sex, mother to child transmission, as well as using unsterilized syringes.

“For us in Zambia we have done a research on HIV modes of transmission. The modes of HIV transmission that are known scientifically are through unprotected hero-sexual sex and any other forms of unprotected sex. Secondly, scientifically proven mode of transmission of HIV is from an HIV positive mother who is pregnant passing the virus to an unborn child during pregnancy, during child delivery and during breastfeeding. Another scientifically proven risk is that of sharing unsterilized syringes among people who use drugs. These are the three major ones, they could be in sub groups but they are the major ones,” said Mwiinga.