In defence of compulsory HIV testing in Malawi

My appreciations go to Malawi human rights organisations for promotion of human rights in our beloved warm heart of Africa. For sure if you rewind events of our country back to 1970s and 80s, you would agree that human rights were so limited but after attainment of multiparty democracy in 1994 and ratification of the bill of rights into our republican constitution, human rights organisations are empowered to promote people’s rights such as right to life, freedom of expression, right to education, right to privacy, equality, family and marriage, right to development, to earn property, freedom of opinion, fair trial and many others which are stipulated in Chapter Four of our constitution. It is as a result of freedom of expression that Nyasa Times allows publication of articles of people like me.

While commending the work of Human Rights Organisations, I regret to say that some of these organisations have slipped from their main objectives. It is retrogressive to learn that some Human rights organisations want to take over the role of governing the nation by going overboard in their human rights advocacy. They are interrupting good government’s vision, mission and objectives which are beneficial to the entire nation. They are pocking their nose into others’ affairs too much.

I read with keen interest the news depicting 23 organisations which are against the drafted bill aiming at introducing compulsory HIV testing of sex workers, pregnant women, prospective police, defence force, prison service and immigration officers and other employees. Led by CEDEP and CHRR, these organisations argue that it is a violation of human rights to introduce compulsory HIV testing to the mentioned groups citing right to personal liberty, right to freedom and security of a person, right to personal privacy, right to dignity and right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.HIV

Surprisingly but not surprising, these organisations have omitted the most important fundamental human right, “RIGHT TO LIFE” (Section 4.16). In their mentioning of human rights, they have deliberately omitted this right with the reason known to them. Don’t you think that life is better than the rights you have mentioned? Indeed, people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

Which is better, to save life of the baby or keeping the mother’s right to privacy? If the mother is diagnosed HIV positive, precautionary measures will be taken during delivery to prevent the baby from contacting HIV. Do you have to be told this? Isn’t this very clear from the medical perspective? Is it not wise to let one know his/her HIV status in order to start taking antiretroviral drugs on time so that he/she lives longer? Is it not better for the company to know its prospective employees’ HIV status, not to deny them a job but to put up better programmes for their benefit and the company they are to work for? Can’t this be helpful to the police and the army where people of stable healthy are expected to work? This is not segregation but reality of the fact. Don’t you think the secret is what has taken many lives including the innocent ones?

It is unfortunate that our human rights organisations seem to be against everything good and support what is bad? What is wrong with these NGOs? If we compromise saving lives, whose rights shall we fight for? Please, let us be objective. If policies are aimed at saving lives, let us support them. It is not good to speak just for the sake of showing that you are doing something but by being objective. You can’t say that you’re fighting for human rights when you ignore the right to life. Any right that is infringing right to life is not worthy fighting for. I wonder that even church organisations are part of signing the document aiming at compromising saving people’s lives.

I hear that some two uncultured contemporaries from area 18 in Lilongwe have deliberately circulated a pornographic video clip on social media but because this is what most of these NGOs consider human rights, they won’t speak against it and if these contemporaries get arrested for breaching the penal code, these organisations will make noise. What are we doing Malawians? What are we trying to achieve? Development should be inclusive of those infected and that can’t happen if we compromise on ways of reducing HIV infection and putting up proper ways to care for the infected ones. I wonder, what’s wrong with CEDEP and CHRR these days? Are you advocating for human rights or death rights?

Reduction of HIV in Malawi is compromised by greed. My understanding is that this is not the issue of human rights but fear of losing jobs resulting from reduction of HIV/AIDS and halting of aid. You want money from World Health Organisation and other international organisations in the name of HIV/AIDS. Don’t fear, you will still have better pay thereafter. Please, don’t frustrate government’s strides to reduce HIV infection to save many lives. Medical professionals see the importance of HIV test to the pregnant women to avoid the baby contacting HIV and you are saying that is the violation of human rights. What! Doesn’t the baby have the right to life?

What do you mean when you say, “Compulsory HIV testing of sex workers does not further any public health goal?” You can’t see that the goal is to reduce HIV related deaths by giving necessary treatment to those infected? When you argue about the window period, don’t you think that those testing on window period are very few? Not even a quarter of those who go for HIV testing maybe on window period. Most results are accurate. Don’t you think that compulsory HIV testing to the sex workers is for their own good and not only to their clients? When they know that they are HIV positive, they will start taking antiretroviral drugs on time to live longer and save lives of their clients.

I see these Human rights organisations contradicting themselves when they say “it may make pregnant women less willing to access health care if they are fearful of being subjected to compulsory HIV testing, putting the woman’s and her baby’s life at risk?” Don’t you know that compulsory HIV testing is aimed at saving woman’s life and that of the baby? Your petition is full of contradiction showing lack of objectivity. You mean you don’t know that counselling, compliance to precautions and safely measures are aimed at reducing stigma and worries to the infected person contrary to what you said.

I would say that it is not proper to force every citizen to go for HIV testing, but for the specified groups, it is really significant for the benefit of an individual, unborn baby and the nation. When we fight for human rights, please let’s be objective. Right to life which these organisations have skipped and ignored, is the most fundamental one above all.

I would like to kindly advise these organisations that, it’s wise to speak when you really have something to say, and not just for the sake of opening the mouth. I beg you to please revise your petition. Don’t mislead the nation for selfish gains.

  • Robert Masikamu (Public Advisor)
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