Southern African Clinicians Society Head Calls for HIV Testing in Country To Be Required, Confidential
Confidential HIV testing should be required for all people in South Africa so those who test positive can begin safeguarding their health immediately, Francois Venter, head of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, said at a news conference on Thursday, the Washington Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 10/20). According to Venter, four-fifths of the roughly five million HIV-positive people in South Africa are not aware of their status, meaning that most HIV-positive people do not receive the care they need in the early stages of the disease and seek medical treatment only when their health has severely deteriorated (Kahn, BusinessDay, 10/20). Venter said prospective employers should require proof of an HIV test before making job offers, but they should not require the results. In addition, HIV testing should be required when people apply for bank accounts, health insurance, government grants, drivers' licenses or whenever people "deal in any way with bureaucracy," Venter said (Quinn, Reuters, 10/19). According to Venter, HIV tests should be repeated at regular intervals to ensure that new cases are detected soon after transmission rather than years later. In addition, test results should not be available to the government or employers, Venter said (Washington Post, 10/20). Companies should be issued testing targets and should receive tax credits, Venter said, adding that home HIV testing kits should be available without a prescription (SAPA/iafrica.com, 10/20). Venter also said the testing should always be accompanied by counseling and information about safer-sex practices and responsible behavior. Some advocates oppose mandatory HIV testing, saying it might violate human rights and make HIV-positive people vulnerable to stigma (Reuters, 10/19). Mark Heywood, treasurer for the Treatment Action Campaign, expressed disapproval of Venter's recommendations, saying, "The suggestion that we should introduce some sort of coercive thing, that's pushing it ridiculously," adding, "There are sensible ways of dragging people into testing, and there are stupid ways" (Washington Post, 10/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.