Columnists Features

Right to life supreme

EMELDA Musonda.

THE decision b y Government to make HIV counselling and Testing mandatory has been met by some criticism especially from human rights activists and the opposition.
Some activists and opposition political parties contend that the decision is a violation of human rights.

The Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), for instance, has argued that mandatory HIV testing is against human rights.
NGOCC executive director Engwase Mwale said compelling an individual to test for HIV is not a guarantee that they will adhere to treatment.
“As much as it is Government’s responsibility to ensure a healthy nation, such a pronouncement [mandatory HIV testing] does little in respecting citizens’ individual rights especially to privacy which are guaranteed in the Constitution,” Ms Mwale said.
Forum for Democr acy and Development (FDD) spokesperson Antonio Mwanza has also argued that mandatory HIV testing is unethical and a violation of human rights.
Mr Mwanza said FDD strongly opposes mandatory HIV testing because it violates the privacy and bodily integrity of persons.
He further argues that it is detrimental to public health because many people would shy away from health centres for fear of being forced into testing against their will.
He also says no one, not even a government, has the right to force someone to take a test they don’t want to. People must take a conscious decision to either take the HIV test or not.
Mr Mwanza emphasized that as a country we should respect and adhere to the five key components of HIV/AIDS testing and counselling, also known as 5Cs, coined by the World Health Organisation, to which Zambia is a signatory.
These components are, Consent; Confidentiality; Counselling; Correct test results; Connection or linkage to prevention, care and treatment.
The arguments advanced by those opposing the mandatory HIV counselling and testing, which is mainly anchored on violation of right to privacy and consent, in my view are weak.
Government’s argument on the other hand is very strong because it borders on saving lives.
Statistics from the University Teaching Hospital state that 81 percent of deaths that occur at the at the country’s largest health institution are HIV-related.
And from 1988 to date, it is estimated that one million people have died from HIV.
Currently 1.2 million people are living with the HIV virus and less than 85 percent of these are on medication.
Given these statistics, Government has every reason to be concerned especially that a healthy citizenry is key to propelling the country’s development agenda.
In our communities we know of people who died because they discovered rather too late that they were infected and subsequently anti-retroviral treatment was similarly too late to serve them.
These are people who for one reason or the other did not see any need to go for voluntary counselling and testing.
We also know that there are many people going round infecting others including innocent unborn babies because they have chosen not to know their HIV status.
Such individuals are not only a danger to themselves but to society as a whole.
President Lungu aptly describes them as suicide bombers. This is indeed true because failure to test for HIV and start ART in good time is a suicide mission which leads to untimely death and infection of one’s partner and an unborn child in the case of conception.
Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya is right by asking: “If you think it is your right not to know your status, how about the right of your partner you are going to infect? That partner doesn’t have the right to remain negative? How about the rights of a child who is not born? Doesn’t that child have the right not to be born positive?”
It therefore goes to say refusal by an individual to know their HIV status and start treatment if found positive is a claim that they have the right to die and also kill others through infections.
The argument by human rights activists is therefore misplaced and should not be entertained. How on earth can the right to privacy and consent take precedence over the right to life?
Can an individual claim any other right if they have no life?
The r a t e at which our human rights activists advocate certain issues without thorough interrogation of the implications is worrying.
We know in some Western countries how children are degenerating into moral wrecks because parents are being denied the responsibility and authority to discipline them, all in the name of human rights.
I will not be surprised if one day some human rights activists will claim that it is a violation of human rights to quarantine Ebola patients in the case of an outbreak.
We have already experienced how some activists are packaging abomination in the name of same sex marriages as a human right.
As a country we need to be cautious about what we adopt in the name of human rights.
In the case of mandatory HIV counselling and testing, the issue of human rights violation should not arise because the decision is meant to save lives.
Human rights activists should also understand that mandatory HIV counselling and testing does not mean that our medical practitioners will stand on mountain tops to announce the results of individuals.
Confidentiality, which is one the guiding ethics in the process of HIV counselling and testing, will still be upheld as has always been the case.
Mandatory testing should be supported by all well-meaning Zambians because it is a practical step to achieving the target of reducing HIV infections to zero by 2030.
However, if given to choose between the right to consent and right to life, the latter is certainly to be given preference.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.


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