Malawi: Of mandatory HIV testing among couples

Malawi: Of mandatory HIV testing among couples

Date: June 8, 2015
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Blantyre, 8 June: There are actually varied approaches to issues that engulf the gender related talk that need either a clear understanding or fresh perception.

To the dismay of many, most common media stories focus on Gender Based Violence (GBV), research findings, progress, as well as what stakeholders are doing.

In the recount of many media items that were presented during the 2015 SADC Gender Protocol Summit in Malawi, one story was so swift to grab the attention of many.

The story written by Joseph Mwale was titled “To go or not to go for Mandatory HIV Testing“. The story had been published in the Nation Newspaper of 24 September 2014.

In the story, Joseph exposes how there is the unrest between couples on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission-PMTCT programme, which is currently operational in maternal and child care centres across Malawi.

Culturally, women are responsible for the care of pregnancies as opposed to their husbands.

From such a background, Joseph engages an expectant mother who is proud of the PMTCT but wonders why women are more involved in such kind of issues.

Chisomo Mariko, 21 at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe feels that the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill was vital it but failed to include men whom she says also have a role in the maternal issues.

Apparently, the bill is pushing for the mandatory HIV testing of women who are expecting.

It also lobbies for a framework for effective regulation of the prevention and management of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Malawi.

In a twist of the whole issue, some activists maintain that it is a violation of an individual’s rights to force them to undergo an HIV test. Others stick to the view that every right has responsibilities attached to it and HIV testing should be mandatory.

A conflict however arises on whether mandatory HIV testing only applies to women and not men as it were.

The article also raises issue of whether or not deliberate or causal transmission of the HIV virus is acceptable.

In the story Joseph brings in the view of the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS-MANET+, which believes that HIV tests should remain voluntary among couples and any other people in the country.

The story quotes MANET+ stance that “Any HIV testing should be by informed and truly voluntary consent; Similarly, disclosure of HIV status to relations and partners should be at the discretion of the person living with the virus,”

The school of thought by MANET+ was also echoed by UNAIDS country director, Amakobe Sande, who while citing that the ideology behind the PMTCT might be very useful in the fight against HIV/AIDS bust a question would always emanate from why the mandatory HIV testing is a priority for women alone.

“We would prefer an environment where there are adequate efforts on addressing stigma and discrimination, where people are counselled comprehensively and motivated to undergo HIV test, not an environment where people drive themselves underground because they are fearful of coming forward for testing or repercussions for disclosing,” Sande suggests.

“If you talk about testing in Malawi, just 15% come forth, and most of these are women who get tested during pregnancy. When a woman is tested positive for HIV, they are accused of being unfaithful and that hurts. The best is to comprehensively civic educate couples on the matter,” Sande is on record as having said.

On her part, Malawi Health Equity Network-MHEN executive director, Martha Kwataine recalls that when she was expectant it was only her who went for tests and that her husband would only be updated on the phone.

She maintains that in the bill, responsibilities must for always be noted and not just the rights.
Moses Sefasi who wonders why only women must be forced to test and not their husbands or would-be-husbands.

Another dilemma that comes into play according to Joseph is to “respect rights of parent by providing for voluntary HIV testing among pregnant mothers or respect the rights the unborn through mandatory testing.”

The story explores the nexus between gender and HIV/AIDS in the context of culture and law.

This is perhaps why, Joseph’s story emerged the best in Print.

This article is part of the GL News Service special coverage of the SADC Gender Protocol Summits underway across the region, offering fresh views on everyday news.






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