Human Rights Commission (HRC) Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga says government must revisit the policy pronouncement on mandatory HIV/AIDS testing because it is in conflict with internationally agreed principles and practices on reducing the spread of the disease.
In a statement issued to News Diggers! today, Mwandenga cautioned government against violating human rights during the implementation of the compulsory HIV Testing, Counseling and Treatment (HTC).
“The Human Rights Commission (HRC) wishes to acknowledge the positive efforts the government is making towards achieving zero new HIV infections and zero AIDS related deaths but wishes to caution against violating human rights during the course of implementing that vision,” Mwandenga said.
“The HRC would like to particularly call 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.”
Mwandenga urged government to adhere to the United Nations (UN) guideline on HIV testing and counseling as articulated through the joint UN Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) which discouraged mandatory HIV/AIDS testing on public health grounds and respect for human rights.
“The Commission wishes to reiterate the guidance of UNAIDS and WHO in their policy statement dated 28th November 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 compulsoryt (coerced) testing is never appropriate, regardless of where that coercion comes from: health-care providers, partners, family members, employers or others,” Mwandenga said.
“It is therefore regrettable that the Government may be formulating a policy that is in breach of international norms on HIV Testing and Counseling and in multiple violation of human rights such as the right to non-discrimination, bodily integrity, and the right to be free from violation.”
He said that the decision had the potential to roll back the fight against the spread of HIV.
“The Commission notes 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,” said Mwandenga
“The government is therefore urged to scale up investment in HIV/AIDS Counseling in order to promote public awareness, understanding and appreciation of HIV Testing as well as promoting behavioural change and/or positive living. The Government should also scale up the provision of treatment to those who are infected. 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, counseling, autonomy and informed consent.”