NANCY SIAME and CHOMBA MUSIKA, Lusaka
GOVERNMENT has threatened to shut down all private health facilities that will not comply with the policy decision of compulsory testing for HIV of individuals who visit health facilities for any ailment.
Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya said the decision to have HIV testing as mandatory is evidence-backed and applies to all health institutions, including private ones.
Dr Chilufya said in an interview yesterday that further proclamation on how to proceed on this matter will be announced. The decision was made during a Cabinet meeting on Monday.
During a press briefing at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services earlier, Dr Chilufya wondered why people are afraid of knowing their HIV status.
“Why are people afraid of knowing their status? It’s better you know so that if you are positive, medication is given to preserve your life,” he said.
He disclosed that 81 percent of admissions at the University Teaching Hospital are HIV-related.
Dr Chilufya, who was flanked by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Kampamba Mulenga and special assistant to the President for press and public relations Amos Chanda, said health systems are overburdened by HIV cases, hence the need to reduce new infections.
He said the mandatory testing is a responsible decision to fast-track the elimination of HIV.
“This decision is in line with the joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS which states that 90 percent of people should know their status by 2020,” Dr Chilufya said.
Dr Chilufya said HIV infections from mother to child have reduced tremendously as mothers are tested for HIV during pregnancy, and treatment given if found positive.
And Mr Chanda said President Lungu will not allow people to die when they can be helped. He said the mandatory HIV testing decision is final as it is now a policy.
Ms Mulenga said the HIV Testing, Counselling and Treatment which has replaced the Voluntary Counselling and Testing will help reduce new infections.
Ms Mulenga said privacy is assured to any person who visits the hospital.
Meanwhile, stakeholders have welcomed Government’s announcement of mandatory HIV test and treatment with the Zambia Medical Association (ZMA) pledging to promote confidentiality of HIV test results of clients.
President Lungu on Tuesday declared that HIV testing is now mandatory for anyone who visits any public health facility for any ailment.
President Lungu said HIV testing will now be among other tests to be done on patients to ascertain their state of health to provide timely and appropriate remedies.
ZMA president Abidan Chansa described President Lungu’s declaration of mandatory HIV testing as a “bold and welcome move”.
“And as an association, we will promote professionalism and confidentiality among people who handle HIV test results,” Dr Chansa said.
He said in an interview yesterday, mandatory HIV testing will play a crucial role in ending HIV and AIDS by 2030.
Dr Chansa said human rights infringement cannot supersede the life-saving benefits that will come with mandatory HIV testing.
He said mandatory HIV testing calls for enhancement of HIV counselling services.
Dr Chansa also called on Government to consider enhancing the country’s ability to generate more money towards antiretroviral therapy.
“There is need for Government and other stakeholders to ensure a stable health financing system so that we do not overly depend on donors.
“Government should safeguard health care so that we do not have challenges when stakeholders pull out their funding,” he said.
And the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) said mandatory HIV testing is a new gateway to HIV prevention, care and treatment.
PMRC executive director Bernadette Deka said in a statement that mandatory testing will expand access to HIV testing and enhance access to HIV prevention activities, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
Ms Deka, however, said there is need to explore health-care providers’ attitudes toward mandatory HIV-testing for different patients and various factors associated with providers’ attitudes towards mandatory HIV testing.
And musician and HIV/AIDS activist Paul Banda, who is living positively, called for an end of discrimination against people living with HIV.
Mr Banda, who was born HIV positive, said while mandatory testing is welcome, there is need to put in place initiatives aimed at ending discrimination against those who will test positive after undergoing the ‘compelling test’.
But the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) feels mandatory HIV testing is against human rights.
NGOCC executive director Engwase Mwale said in a statement that 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 citizen’s individual rights especially to privacy which are guaranteed in the Constitution,” Ms Mwale said.
She said Government should have instead scaled up voluntary counselling and testing for HIV which failed to yield positive results due to ineffective implementation.
And MWILA NTAMBI reports from Kitwe that the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has urged Government to be cautious on the enforcement of the policy.
HRC chairperson Mudford Mwandenga said in a statement released yesterday that Government should adhere to the United Nations guideline on HIV testing and counselling as articulated through the joint UN programme on AIDS (UNAIDS).
Mr Mwandenga said while the commission acknowledges Government’s efforts in achieving zero new HIV infections and related deaths, there is need to be cautious in ensuring human rights are not violated during the course of implementing those efforts.
He said voluntary HIV testing still remains the preferred effective mode of fighting HIV and AIDS because it is anchored on sound public health practice and respect for human rights as guided by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation.