Lilongwe: In what is seen as a bold move to tackle HIV/Aids, Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders who are meeting for their ordinary summit in Malawi could propose a compulsory universal HIV testing in all member states in a bid to reduce infections.
Speaking at a discussion on Sunday morning, several Heads of State seemed to back the initiative with some like the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe highlighted the need to protect the rights of individuals but at the same time tackle the disease.
“In Zimbabwe we have been conducting ourselves like everyone else in the world, respecting the rights of individuals and only dealing with cases of people who come forward. But more measures need to be looked at to fight this disease,” said Mugabe.
The SADC region has the highest levels of HIV prevalence globally. Although SADC member states are implementing HIV prevention interventions, the HIV burden is still heavy with the region being home to more than 13 million people living with the virus.
Malawian President Joyce Banda, who chaired the meeting, encouraged member states to debate the issue and make a recommendation.
“When we were dealing with epidemics like polio everybody was forced to take vaccines why is it that when it comes to HIV/Aids rights come into the equation,” said Banda.
“Of course it’s something that we have to really think about. Making it compulsory there will be those logistics and the costs involved because of the nature of the disease,” said Botswana President Ian Khama. Khama said the dwindling donor funds for HIV presented problems for many African countries because these countries were now diverting money intended for development to HIV progrmmes.
The status of HIV and Aids as a global epidemic has stimulated a global response. Many programmes are addressing the pandemic in the SADC region.
South Africa is currently running one of the world’s largest treatment and prevention programmes. The country has recently made huge strides in HIV treatment, scaling-up the number of people on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs while also improving its national treatment guidelines.
African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who participated in the discussion, suggested that mandatory testing is warranted because early detection is helpful to fighting HIV.
“Sometimes in terms of testing early and preventing early seems expensive at the time but if you look how much you spend when people are now sick and admitted to hospital. When you look at the balance sheet you probably spend less when you intervene early,” said Dlamini Zuma. She called on SADC countries to even consider some kind of a levy to raise funds for HIV drugs. Zimbabwe is already doing this and the levy applies on all taxable income.