Malawi CSOs against forced HV testing for sex workers, pregnant women

Malawi human rights groups have criticized  the decision by government to introduce compulsory regulation forcing suspected sex workers, pregnant women and other groups to undergo HIV testing.

At least 23 Civil Society organizations in Malawi working in the area of HIV and AIDS voiced out their dissatisfaction against some provisions of the draft HIV and AIDS bill which amongst several other issues proposes for a compulsory HIV and AIDS testing for commercial sex workers, pregnant women,  describing such provisions as discriminatory, retrogressive and an infringement of the rights of the targeted groups.

In a joint petition titled Civil Society Petition on the draft HIV and AIDS Bill made available to Nyasa Times, the CSOs, which include CEDEP, MANET+,CHRR and others, observe that despite calls by various stakeholders to rationalize the HIV and AIDS draft bill,  there are still some retrogressive provisions contained in the said proposed legislation.

The 23 organizations hence call for the removal of the said retrogressive provisions.testing hiv

“Compulsory HIV testing of sex workers violates fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution. These rights include the right to personal liberty; the right to freedom and security of the person; the right to personal privacy; the right to dignity and the right not be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” reads part of the petition.

CSOs argue that compulsory HIV testing of sex workers does not further any public health goal.

“An HIV-negative test result is indicative of someone’s possible HIV status at that time, but might not be true of the person’s HIV status a week later. An HIV-negative test result might not even be accurate since the person could be in the window period or have an undetectable viral load. An HIV-positive test result is not indicative of whether someone is likely to transmit HIV to others. A sex worker who tests HIV positive might be using condoms and might not be placing anyone at risk infection”.

While warning that compulsory HIV testing of sex workers may derail efforts of addressing HIV AIDs in Malawi as it places sex workers at increased risk of abuse and HIV infection, the petition cites the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS as also against mandatory or compulsory HIV testing of individuals on public health grounds, including key populations at higher risk of HIV infection and other vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and sex workers.

The petition further calls for the removal of a provision that calls for compulsory HIV testing of pregnant women and their sexual partners or spouses as it  violates the fundamental rights as guaranteed in the constitution.

Just as is the case with sex workers, the petition argues that compulsory HIV testing of pregnant women and their sexual partners may not further any public health goal and undermine Malawi’s ability to effectively address HIV.

“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. The WHO and UNAIDS do not support mandatory or compulsory testing of individuals on public health grounds, including key populations at higher risk of HIV infection and other vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women and sex workers” reads the statement.

Issued on 15th August 2013 and signed by 23 Civil Society organizations, the petition goes beyond addressing the plight of sex workers and pregnant women by advocating for the removal of provisions which call for compulsory pre-employment HIV testing of domestic workers as well as those to be recruited in the Defence Force, Police Service, Prison Service and Immigration Department.

The petition further calls for the removal of a provision which forces a person diagnosed with HIV to undergo counseling by a health service provider as well as to comply with precautions and safety measures.

It then recommends the inclusion of a section to the bill specifically for women, children, prisoners and key populations.

The Civil Society Petition on the Draft HIV and AIDS bill is the outcome of a 2 day Boadzulu Holiday resort meeting with the financial support of ARASA. The meeting resolved to release both the petition and the Memorundum of Demand on Ending Stigma and discrimination.

The 23 Civil Society Organisations that are signatory to the e petition and  the Memorundum of Demand on Ending Stigma and discrimination includes Malawi Interfaith AIDS Association; Youth and Children Rights Shield; Grassroot Movement for Health; Passion for Women and Children; Ladder for Rural Development; Muslim Association of Malawi; Mponela AIDS Information and Counseling Centre; Theatre for a change; Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi; Nkhotakota IDS Support Organisation; Centre for Development of People; Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation; Livingstonia Synod AIDS program; Journalists Against AIDS and  Malawi Health Equity Network.

Others are  Southern Africa AIDS Trust; Teachers Living Positively; Malawi Business Coalition Against AIDS; Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS; Network of Journalists Living with HIV; Malawi Network of People Living with HIV; and Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organisation.

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