Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee of Health and Population, Juliana Lunguzi, has said there is no need to press the panic button by putting in mandatory HIV and Aids testing in the country but said there should be a cautious approach.
Lunguzi, who is member of parliament for Dedza East (Malawi Congress Party –MCP), was commenting in the HIV/Aids and Nutrition Blll in Parlaiment.
The Bill if enacted into law would require pregnant women to undergo HIV testing and also their sexual partners. The move is aimed at reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
However, opponents of the proposed bill in Parliament argue it would violate women’s rights.
Lunguzi pointed out that Malawi has demonstrated “tremendous progress” in the area of prevention of mother to child HIV transmission.
She said the country need to tread carefully on the issue of making the HIV test compulsory.
“I say so because if you force people they might not be cooperative in doing the things that you want them to do despite understanding its importance. So, it is how we word whatever comes here. As a country, we are formulating a law and let us be serious on how best we frame it, so that we don’t make women run away from the health facilities,” she said.
Agness Nyalonje, MP for Mzimba North (People’s Party) fears that the mandatory testing for HIV and Aids could lead to increased cuases of geneder based violence because it will entail a woman forcing or persuading her partner to get tested.
“What I would like to underline is that, if we are insisting on compulsory testing for pregnant women, in the same way we need to find ways where our system can be on mandatory basis for men too. Government must find ways to collect information from men and take the role of making sure that men come for testing. Do not put it on the shoulders of women. Women are already carrying a huge burden,” said Nyalonje.
“Let us make sure that men, for a change take responsibility for themselves and for the unborn children, for whom we profess to be testing,” she added.
Chairman of Parliamentary HIV, AIDS and Nutrition Committee, Gumba Banda said “we are all affected by HIV directly or indirectly. And every journey, no matter what it takes starts with a single step. Therefore, the need to pass this piece of legislation, does not need to be over-emphasised. The process started way back in 2010, 2008, or there about and here we are on the journey.”
Rights group that advocates for women’s rights and empowerment, said the proposed bill was unfortunate and retrogressive as it implied women were to blame for transmitting the disease.