I read in today’s Monitor that the Government of Uganda is planning to require all those who attend a health centre or hospital to have an HIV test. Whilst I understand why some will support such a policy, there will be others who will resist it, especially from a human rights perspective.
It is very important that we all have regular HIV tests and that we know our own status and that of our partner(s). Usually this is done on a voluntary basis in which we rely on an individual coming forward for counselling and testing, VCT. Sometimes counselling and testing is initiated by a health service provider, PITC, e.g. when women attend ante-natal or a man comes forward for safe male circumcision.
A policy which mandates testing will need to be carefully planned and we will need sufficient time to allow for wide and full discussions regarding the issues that will follow.
- Is it right for the GoU to ask health workers to enforce such a policy, especially if the patient is refusing?
- Are there enough, adequately trained, and skilled, counsellors to ensure that patients receive all relevant information to enable informed consent?
- Will we be able to enrol all those that test positive onto the necessary care and treatment programmes, ART?
HIV prevalence is on the increase in Uganda and more people are becoming infected than the number of those that are started on treatment, so yes we need to improve Prevention. Testing accompanied with enrolment onto treatment programmes is an essential prevention measure, I’m just not convinced making it compulsory will work here and the backlash may in itself prove detrimental to other prevention campaigns.