Forced HIV tests are problematic

Published: December 14, 2012

Plans by the Ministry of Health to compulsorily give an HIV test to everyone who attends a government health centre seek to achieve the right objective using the wrong means.

There is the obvious problem of human rights. As rights groups and civil society organisations have argued previously, how do you force someone to undergo a medical procedure if they choose not to? It is also quite possible that refusing to provide medical attention to those who refuse to undertake the HIV test could violate their right to access healthcare.

The bigger problem is one of cause and effect. The government is right to seek new ways of trying to address the increasing HIV prevalence in the country, which has risen from about 6.4 per cent to 7.3 per cent. What is not clear is whether the new infections are driven by ignorance about people’s HIV statuses, or by their failure to make necessary behavioural changes.

People who test negative for HIV, the argument goes, are more likely to act in their self interest by not engaging in risky sexual behaviour. However, there is evidence to suggest that complacency about HIV – and a mishmash of confusing prevention messages could be playing a bigger role in preventing more responsible sexual behaviour.

Forcing people to undergo HIV tests at government health facilities is likely to push many away to private or traditional health centres and defeat the purpose of the initiative.

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