South African Cabinet Approves Legislation That Would Require Alleged Sexual Offenders to be Tested for HIV Within 72 Hours of Alleged Assault
South Africa's Cabinet on Wednesday formally approved legislation that would allow rape survivors to demand their alleged perpetrator be tested for HIV, South Africa's Star/Independent Online reports. The Compulsory HIV Testing of Alleged Sexual Offenders Bill offers a "speedy and uncomplicated mechanism" to allow sexual assault survivors to determine the HIV status of their alleged perpetrators and to allow survivors to begin taking antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection (Battersby et al., Star/Independent Online, 10/23). According to BBC News, HIV testing is mandatory only up to 72 hours after the alleged rape occurred (BBC News, 10/24). Ruth Rabinowitz, Inkatha Freedom Party health spokesperson, said the passage of the bill is "the brightest light that we have seen on the horizon yet, signaling a constructive government approach to HIV/AIDS" (Star/Independent Online, 10/23). Judy Kollapen, chair of the South African Human Rights Commission, added that the alleged perpetrators should also receive "proper" counseling before and after being tested (Mohapeloa, BuaNews/AllAfrica.com, 10/24). However, a legal expert said that the legislation would likely cause "controvers[y]" in terms of personal privacy rights. In addition, Joan van Niekerk, chair of Childline South Africa, said rape survivors should begin taking antiretroviral drugs within 72 hours of the sexual assault regardless of whether or not their alleged perpetrator tested positive for HIV. "A disadvantage of the bill would be that if the offender's tests are negative, it might prevent the victim from taking antiretrovirals," van Niekerk said, adding that an alleged perpetrator may be tested for HIV during the "window period," in which a person can be HIV-positive but has not yet produced enough antibodies to test positive for the virus (Star/Independent Online, 10/23). Joel Netshitenzhe, head of government communications, said the Parliament would soon table the measure (SAPA/Independent Online, 10/23). However, Carolyn Dempster of BBC said that even if the Parliament adopts the law, it is not likely to "make much difference in practical terms" because authorities "rarely" apprehend alleged rapists within 72 hours. Approximately one in nine South Africans is HIV-positive, and 25% of South African girls are raped before age 16, according to a child support group (BBC News, 10/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.