The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called upon the Government to revisit the recent policy pronouncement on mandatory HIV/AIDS testing because it is in conflict with the internationally agreed principles and practices on reducing the spread of HIV and mitigating the impact of AIDS.
The Commission has encouraged government to adhere to the United Nations (UN) guideline on HIV testing and counselling as articulated through the joint UN Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) which discourages mandatory HIV/AIDS testing on public health grounds and respect for human rights.
ZANIS reports that this is according to a statement released by Human Rights Commission Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga, today.
The Commission has however cautioned government against violating human rights during the course of implementing that vision with regards to the pronouncement by government on the mandatory HIV/AIDS testing announced yesterday.
The Commission reiterated the guidance of UNAIDS and WHO in their policy statement dated 28thNovember 2012 that:
“People being tested for HIV must give informed consent to be tested. They must be informed of the process of HIV Testing and Counselling, the services that will be available depending on the results, and their right to refuse testing. Mandatory or compulsory (coerced) testing is never appropriate, regardless of where that coercion comes from: health-care providers, partners, family members, employers or others” says the Commission.
It states that it is therefore regrettable that government may be formulating a policy that is in breach of international norms on HIV Testing and Counselling and in multiple violation of human rights such as the right to non-discrimination, bodily integrity, and the right to be free from violation.
The Commission has noted that while the decision of the Government to introduce mandatory HIV Testing may have been well intended, it has the negative potential of rolling back the fight against the spread of HIV and mitigating the impact of AIDS.
Voluntary HIV Testing remains the most preferred effective mode of fighting HIV/AIDS because it is anchored on sound public health practice and respect for human rights as guided by the UN through UNAIDS and WHO.
HRC has since urged government to scale up investment in HIV/AIDS Counselling in order to promote public awareness, understanding and appreciation of HIV Testing as well as promoting behavioral change and/or positive living.
HRC noted that government should also scale up the provision of treatment to those who are infected as it is important to appreciate that for sustainable results against the spread of HIV through testing and treatment, due sensitivity should be given to matters of privacy, confidentiality, counselling, autonomy and informed consent.
The Commission has however commended government on the positive efforts it is making towards achieving zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS related deaths in the country.
The Commission says it also encourages everyone to seek HIV/AIDS counselling services and prepare for testing in order to know their status and seek treatment, care and support before it is too late.
HRC noted that needles to stress the fact that that not knowing one’s HIV Status can have damaging consequences, as it puts people at risk of delayed treatment and subsequently, premature death.