Debate Over Mandatory HIV Testing Increases in Malaysia, New Cases Up Among Married Women
The Malaysian government plans to expand a rule requiring HIV screening for all couples, despite protests from HIV/AIDS experts and civil rights advocates who argue that such a policy does not prevent transmission of the virus and violates individual rights, Inter Press Service reports.
A limited mandatory testing policy recently was extended by Muslim clerics to cover all Muslim couples seeking to get married, based on an argument made by non-Muslim organizations, individuals and religious groups that HIV transmission can be curbed only through mandatory testing of all couples. Najib Razak, deputy prime minister, has expressed support for extending the mandatory testing policy to all couples, and Inter Press Service reports that he has strong support from the public and other officials. Some Malaysian officials also have suggested rules that would prevent couples with HIV from having sex or reproducing and that would quarantine HIV-positive people in specially constructed camps or isolated islands to "safeguard" the general population, according to Inter Press Service.
According to Inter Press Service, the debate over the mandatory screening policy has "exposed fear and ignorance within government" and has "revealed a deep gulf in thinking" in Malaysia. The debate comes as Malaysian officials report a 50% decrease in the number of HIV cases in recent years since the introduction of a campaign to curb needle sharing among injection drug users through no-cost needle distribution and harm-reduction methadone treatment programs. However, a 35% increase in the number of cases among married women ages 21 to 35 was reported, "a new trend that has alarmed the government," Inter Press Service reports. The report, by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, found that HIV cases transmitted through sex among married women increased from 5% in 1997 to 16% in 2007. According to Inter Press Service, the government has ordered a more in-depth study regarding the increase, and experts are attributing the increase to husbands who contract the virus through unprotected sex with commercial sex workers and then transmit it to their wives.
Malaysia's health ministry reported that the number of new HIV cases decreased from 6,900 in 2007 to 5,400 in 2008. The ministry expects the number of new cases to drop to 3,500 in 2009. According to the United Nations, more than 85,000 HIV cases have been recorded in Malaysia since 1986, and estimates show that about 80,000 people are currently living with the virus (Kuppusamy, Inter Press Service, 1/5).