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African governments still consider mandatory testing tool to fight HIV/Aids

February 13th, 2019
topics:Humans
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Botswana, Mali, Zimbabwe
tags:Africa, HIV, human-rights, Mali, SADC, Zimbabwe

After years of recording noticeable progress is the fight against HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa – the vortx of the once-deadly pandemic – is showing signs of picking up in terms of new HIV infections.

This success appear to have spawned new problems of its own. Widespread access to anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment has made the once deadly disease a manageable medical condition, acutely reducing deaths. The result is a new generation of adolescents that never witnessed the full ravages of the disease and therefore cannot fully appreciate its gravity, hence an increase in risky sexual behaviours.

A UNICEF report pointed to lack of information, campaign fatigue, and sexual violence as being the main contributors to this trend.

This has gotten some governments on the continent worried, prompting some of them to resort to suggestions that include some unorthodox means to stop the renewed spread of the virus.

In December a senior official at the National Aids Council (NAC), Zimbabwe’s body tasked with spearheading the fight against HIV/AIDS revealed that it was considering lobbying the government for a policy that makes HIV testing mandatory for couples planning to marry.

“We want pastors and magistrates or any other marriage officers to demand proof of HIV testing from couples intending to get married. We need to protect our children,” NAC monitoring and evaluation director, Amon Mpofu said.

He went on to reveal that at least 45 percent of female students were leaving tertiary institutions with HIV that they contract during the course of their studies.

“If you look at the statistics we have, there are high cases of new HIV infections among adolescent girls between 15-24 years. We have also observed that about 45 percent of female students in tertiary institutions contract HIV during the course of their studies. Most of them graduate while HIV positive.”

The proposal only makes Zimbabwe the latest country to make this suggestion. Although it has never been implemented with success anywhere, desperate African authorities still keep mandatory HIV testing as one option at their disposal in the fight against the pandemic.

In 2013, leaders of the 15-members Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Malawi passed a resolution suggesting that HIV testing should be made mandatory, but the resolution was not implemented following widespread criticism from human rights and civic society organisation that pointed the plan as a violation of human rights and retrogressive.

However this did not stop new Zambian president Edgar Lungu from trying it in his country in 2017. Lungu announced the plans for mandatory HIV testing for everyone visiting public health facilities for any ailment. This caused an uproar within Zambia with some stakeholders saying it was against human rights as testing should be consented to by the individual. This resulted in the Zambian government backing down on the controversial move, which Botswana and Malawi had also tried to introduce in the early 2000s without success.

Next to state intention to implement mandatory HIV testing was Uganda when in July last year it was announced that students would be subjected to a compulsory tests because of increasing cases of new infections among adolescents. Although the testing has not been implemented yet, the move has caused an outcry among most citizens.

The proposal by SADC leaders was informed by the fact that the region has the highest HIV rates in the whole world. At 27%, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) has the highest HIV rate followed by Lesotho (25%), Botswana (21.9%), South Africa (18.9%), Namibia (13.8%), Zimbabwe (13.5%), Zambia (12.4%) and Mozambique (12.3%).

Other countries with high rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence include Malawi, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Kenya, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Bahamas, Nigeria, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan, Chad, and Angola.

UNAIDS statistics show that at the end of 2017 about 37 million people were living with HIV globally. Although it is home to only 12% of the global population, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 71% of the global burden of HIV infection.

Countries with the highest rates of HIV infection have taken several measures towards reducing the rate of infection among the population. Some of these steps include mass education about HIV/AIDS, the introduction of antiretroviral therapy to infected persons, the introduction of gender equality policies to reduce gender inequality and encouraging infected women to take the necessary precautions to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
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A UNICEF report pointed to lack of information, campaign fatigue, and sexual violence as being the main contributors.
a senior official at the National Aids Council (NAC), Zimbabwe’s body tasked with spearheading the fight against HIV/AIDS revealed that it was considering lobbying the government for a policy that makes HIV testing mandatory for couples planning to marry.
“We want pastors and magistrates or any other marriage officers to demand proof of HIV testing from couples intending to get married. We need to protect our children.”
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