Zambian Civil Groups Express Deep Concern Over Compulsory HIV Testing

The Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC), Community Initiative for Malaria and Tuberculosis (CITAMplus), Coalition for Zambian Women Living with HIV and AIDS (COZWHA), Network of ARV Users and Zambian Network of Religious Living or Personally Affected by  HIV and AIDS (ZANERELA) have commended the Zambian Government on launching HIV Counseling Testing and Treatment Day (HCTT)  Aug. 15,  by His Excellence Edgar Chagwa Lungu.

However, the groups have expressed deep concern on the recent announcement during the launch by The Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu that HIV testing, counseling and treatment is now compulsory in Zambia for any person seeking medical treatment in public healthcare facilities.

The group’s have appealed to the government to rescind the decision and revoke the proclamation forthwith. “Compulsory HIV testing is illegal and unconstitutional in Zambia as both the Supreme Court and the High Court in Zambia have found that consent is only present if it is provided freely, without undue influence, coercion, fraud, misrepresentation or mistake”, said Felix Mwanza National Director for TALC.

“While the policy aims, according to President Lungu, to improve HIV testing and treatment adherence rates, on the contrary, coercive measures fuel stigma and drive people away from healthcare facilities” said Carol Nawina Nyirenda Executive for CITAMplus.

“Informed consent is critical to ensure that individuals are empowered in managing their health. It has been shown that an individual’s sense of self-efficacy plays a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges regarding one’s health, with directly-evidenced clinical benefits” said Mable Mwale Coordinator for COZWHA .

“The approach also violates healthcare ethics and is contrary to international standards, including World Health Organization and UNAIDS guidelines on HIV testing and treatment. International guidelines on HIV and human rights from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) state “public health legislation should ensure that HIV testing of individuals should only be performed with the specific informed consent of that individual”, said Kenly Sikwese from Afrocab.

Exceptions to voluntary testing would need specific judicial authorization, granted only after due evaluation of the
important considerations involved in terms of privacy and liberty.The World Health Organization
(WHO) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) similarly state that HIV testing must “only [be] conducted with informed consent”.