Saturday, 3 June 2006

Wedding blues: WHO guidelines throw spanner in AP government's plans on mandatory HIV test

June 3, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, June 2: The State government's ambitious move to make pre-marital AIDS test compulsory for couples may not materialise what with the World Health Organisation coming out with a set of new guidelines recommending member nations not to press for any mandatory tests.
This in effect means that HIV testing should be done purely on voluntary basis and there should be no compulsory tag attached to it. If the State government goes ahead with the legislation, it will be violating the international health rules.
The guidelines released jointly by WHO and UNAIDS on May 30 point out that all HIV testing must be "voluntary, confidential, and undertaken with the patient's consent". They also prohibit governments from going in for mandatory or compulsory tests on unwilling people or patients.
Though the previous Telugu Desam government mooted the idea of compulsory AIDS test for couples before marriage, it had to back track following uproar from human rights groups. But the present Congress government has decided to go ahead with the legislation in the "larger interests of society".
The State government has also prepared a draft Bill and according to official sources Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy is particular about enacting the legislation at the earliest. The Goa State government came out with a similar legislation but later withdrew it following protests.
As per the new WHO recommendations, patients have the right to decline the test. "They should not be tested for HIV against their will, without their knowledge, without adequate information or without receiving their test results," the guidelines state.
Moreover, the governments should provide patients with support to avoid potential negative consequences of knowing and disclosing their HIV status, such as discrimination or violence.
State AIDS Control deputy director Ch Prabhakar told this correspondent that they were pressing more on counselling HIV patients and targeted groups to create awareness about the problem before moving ahead with any legislation.

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