In this audio, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya says government will respect patients’ rights to live against doctor’s advice if they refuse to be tested for HIV.

This is contrary to what President Lungu said on August 15 when he declared mandatory HIV testing for all citizens who seek medical attention.

President Lungu said: “My position was that ‘no one has got a right to take his own life’ therefore to make sure that we must protect life in Zambia generally and across the board. So just as we test for malaria, we don’t consult you to consent whether you should be tested for malaria or not, we will do the same with HIV and AIDS. And we will counsel you and tell you that you have got this problem, you need to embark on treatment…That is the position of Zambia and its official, no debate about it.”

But speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview yesterday, Dr Chilufya said people should follow what was in the President’s written speech.

“Sometimes the media are using words that are fueling the debate in the negative. Throughout my interviews, I have been saying routine HIV testing, but I don’t know if it is making better news when you say mandatory testing. Watch my interviews, watch my statements, read the statement that the President read, read the statement that is in public domain; routine HIV testing. Now, let’s report as we say it and when we say we have a public health threat, the public health act dictates that we take action to protect the public,” Dr Chilufya said.

“The Human Rights Commission is challenged to take the President’s statement, written statement, read it and engage with us. The first right you have is the right to live, if you are not alive, how will you enjoy your other rights? Let us not reduce this argument to words, semantics, we have a problem on the table, HIV is killing our people. We must demystify HIV, we must stop fearing to know our own status, you cannot hide from your own status.”

Take a listen:

Dr Chilufya said medical practitioners would seek consent before drawing blood from anyone to test for HIV.

“This is a message of hope, this is not a combative statement. The President as Head of State has the mandate to protect the public, the President is well informed on the statistics on health and he is well aware that Zambians today are falling ill and dying from HIV/AIDS. Medical practice is standard, it is such that when you come to the hospital, we will get a history and examine you and decide what test to do. Now, if we must take a urine sample, a stool sample, a blood sample, we will ask you to consent. We will explain to you, we are taking a blood sample because we must do investigations, we are not barbaric and start just drawing blood, no, we will explain to you, ‘we will prick you because we want to do the following tests’. So when we are drawing samples, we do get consent,” he said.

“But let me tell you, do a routine investigation on the basis of finding out what’s wrong with a particular patient, is routine practice, it is not Zambian practice. It is practice everywhere. Go to the European hospital today Grevazio, present with a fever, by the time you are done there you will know that you are syphilis minus, you don’t have HIV, they will screen you because they want to find out what’s wrong with you. Obtaining blood from you, we will get consent because we need to obtain blood in order for us to carry out a number of investigations. And counseling for us in medicine is something we do day in day out. That’s why even in the pronouncement, the word counseling is not there.”

Asked if people could opt out of the test, Dr Chilufya replied in the affirmative saying no one would be arrested for refusing to take an HIV test.

“Grevazio, if you come to the hospital and you are unwell and you want us to help you, let us apply the knowledge that we have to help you. If you go to the mechanic with a faulty car and you say ‘my car is faulty but please, don’t touch the oil filter because that one I don’t want it touched’, you are limiting the mechanics diagnostic capacity. Come to us and tell us you are not feeling well and we will decide if what you need is Malaria test, if what you need is a full blood count, if what you need is this. If we think that HIV testing should be conducted on you, we will tell you. If you decide you don’t want what we are doing, there will be no policeman to arrest you. In hospitals today, there is what is called living against medical advice. There is what we call ‘I have refused medical advice’, it is practice. There is no law that has been put in place where policemen now will be on the streets to catch you or force you to test. There is no one forcing you to test. We are saying HIV testing is a routine investigation,” Dr Chilufya said.

And asked why Cabinet Ministers did not test publicly like the Head of State, Dr Chilufya said people had the right to choose whether or not to disclose their status.

“You know, there are Cabinet ministers who have publicly tested and I want to applaud them but I want to emphasize that confidentiality shall remain the practice in medicine. Even if we find you today with the cancer, we are not allowed to say to the public that you have got cancer. If we find you HIV positive, it is strictly confidential,” said Dr Chilufya.

“People who want to disclose their status will say it. We have got Zambians, prominent Zambians who’ve gone public and said ‘I am negative’ we have had Zambians who have gone public and said ‘I am positive’, prominent Zambians.”