In this audio, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya says government has not backtracked on compulsory HIV testing.
On Sunday, Dr Chilufya made a statement which was contrary to what President Edgar 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 to Grevazio Zulu when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, 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.”
Dr Chilufya then explained that medical officers 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, doing 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 practiced 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.”
But speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Dr Chilufya contradicted himself, saying “routine testing” would be compulsory for all patients.
“It is unfortunate that other sections of the media would want to now say that government has backtracked on its policy. I want to emphasise that government remains consistent. When I say HIV testing will be done routinely, we are saying the investigations that will be done when you are unwell at the hospital will include HIV as a routine test in order to help you become healthier if you are positive to help you live healthier if you are negative,” said Dr Chilufya.
“Self-testing will also be made available, you can do a self test at your work place, in the comfort of your home or in various locations. So we are distributing self-test kits and what is the importance of knowing your status?”
The minister further dispelled speculations that there were dubious procurement dealings behind the newly announced HIV policy.
“Allegations about syndicates are nonsensical at the least and they are not different form hallucinations. People are just dreaming about things. If they have any evidence let them be decent enough to bring the evidence on the table. Let’s be responsible leaders, one million Zambians have died and you want to start politicking?” asked Dr Chilufya.
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