By John Agaba
“Have MPs really examined what impact mandatory HIV testing would have in the fight against HIV?” This was one of the questions a total of 43 civil society organizations put forward when addressing journalists at the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/Aids offices in Ntinda this week.
Dora Musinguzi, UGANET’s executive director said mandatory HIV testing of all Ugandans is not only a “gross violation of human rights”, but also an insane act that would only escalate HIV incidences than bring them down.
Mandatory HIV testing is one of the four clauses in the HIV/Aids and Control Bill 2010 – now in its final stages – that the 43 CSOs want rephrased.
But legislators on the parliamentary HIV/Aids committee have stuck to their guns, insisting that mandatory testing is for the benefit of all Ugandans and will allow government better plan for persons living with the virus.
In a telephone interview, Kitgum Woman MP, Beatrice Anywar, who sits on that committee, stressed: “We have many people [living] with HIV but because they are not tested we don’t know them. Government needs to know the accurate figures of people with the virus so it can plan for them.”
However, UGANET’s Musinguzi reasoned that mandatory testing wasn’t the best way if MPs were really interested in seeing people screened for HIV.
“It’s simple logic. MPs should ask themselves if people are not testing voluntarily. Will they test by force?” she said, adding that people “will instead run away. They will not go to hospitals. And we shall bring back the HIV stigma of the early ‘90s.”
Other unwanted clauses in the bill include: disclosure of one’s HIV status to third parties, discretion by medical personnel to disclose one’s HIV status to one’s sex partner, and the criminalization of intentional and attempted transmission of HIV/Aids.
The CSOs also want the bill’s title changed from HIV Prevention and Control Bill to HIV/Aids Prevention and Management Bill.
Musinguzi insisted that despite the fact that HIV in Uganda is running out of hand and people not testing for the virus is partly to blame, mandatory testing is not feasible.
“Yes people are not testing. It’s those who have tested before who go back for testing. But mandatory testing is not the way.”
Joshua Wamboga, The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) advocacy team leader, said, rather than insisting on mandatory testing, MPs should instead look at increasing mobilization, advocacy, and sensitizing everyone, explaining to them why they need to test and why testing is for their own good.
He said government also needs to allocate a budget to HIV interventions.
“We are talking testing. But do our health centre IVs have testing kits? Where is the money? What is the purpose of testing people if you are not going to treat them?”
He said that other interventions like elimination of mother to child transmissions, treating everyone diagnosed with HIV, and safe male circumcision should be scaled up.
MP Anywar, however, explained that the mandatory testing clause in the bill does not mean they would force people to test.
“We need people to get tested. We are targeting everyone. But, of course, we shall not get a stick and run after them to get tested. We shall intensify the messages – why it’s in their interest they get tested.”
She said it will be a gradual process progressively implemented.
She added: “The problem is that many of us don’t want to face the reality. The situation of HIV is here with us. And we can’t run away from it. So what is best? Not to know your status until it’s too late? Or to know your status and be helped live positively?”
HIV prevalence in Uganda stands at 7.3% and about 356 Ugandans who didn’t have HIV become infected daily.