Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Mugabe Pushes For Forced HIV Testing, Like Polio

Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe, clearly able to focus on other things now that the election drama is over, last week suggested forced HIV testing across the SADC region as a way to fight HIV/AIDS. His argument went as follows (according to this article): 
He said if the region was to make headway in the fight against HIV and AIDS, the matter ought to be treated in the same way other medical conditions, such as polio, are treated.
"The problem is that when it comes to HIV/AIDS testing, issues of freedom and rights come into play and yet, we force people to go for testing and vaccinations for diseases such as polio," said Mugabe.
He said much as individual freedom should be respected, universal and compulsory testing of HIV could be the most viable way.
He also pointed out to other countries how successful Zimbabwe has been at mitigating the effects of the pandemic by "introducing levies to support families affected by the pandemic". Which is... um... interesting. 

Thankfully, other SADC leaders disagreed, pointing out variously that compulsory, universal testing would divert funds from things like, oh, treatment (Khama), that what we really need is cheaper ART manufactured in the region (Kabila) and that the best way to encourage voluntary testing might be by example (Kikwete). No-one focused (perhaps because it was so glaringly obvious to them) the quite considerable difference between polio and HIV/AIDS which appears to have passed the elderly Zimbabwean leader by.  

Mandatory HIV testing has been proposed in various circles for a long time. In South Africa it's fallen out of favour (finally!) as a universal solution to the problem, possibly because widely-available, free anti-retroviral treatment has reduced the impact of HIV/AIDS and helped to make the problem more manageable. At the height of the AIDS-hype it was a popular option and the inevitable prelude to the nasty question of what to do with those who tested positive. Which, along with stigma, is the problem with mandatory testing when there is no cure or vaccine. Isolation of those infected was once seriously proposed by (admittedly fringe) conservative leaders. 

HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. That makes it sensitive and political, particularly in conservative communities (like most of Southern Africa) where myths and misconceptions flourish and sexually-based violence is common-place. Mandatory testing is a solution to nothing and a recipe for many, many problems. Great to see that so many SADC leaders are not buying into it. 

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