Director of BONELA, Uyapo Ndadi continues to express his frustration about the new Health Bill saying it is counter-productive and violates human rights.
He said: “The Ministry of Health finds the bill which authorises doctors to mandatorily test people and if they choose to exercise their right to liberty and refuse, drag them before courts for orders compelling them to test for HIV as not coercive. If this to the MoH is not force, then we don’t know what force is.”
Ndadi believes that the ministry, through its proposed new health bill, will deter people’s interest in knowing their HIV status. He says the bill places the responsibility of the fight against HIV/AIDS on those who are HIV positive. Further, he pointed out that international guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights state that public health, criminal and anti-discrimination legislation should prohibit mandatory HIV testing of targeted groups, including vulnerable groups.
Ndadi argued that though the ministry says that they need to know the numbers of people living with HIV in Botswana for statistical purposes, their (BONELA) view is that statistics cannot and should not be given precedence over people’s rights and dignity. “Worst still, this bill, if it is passed into law, will turn people away from accessing health facilities. People are better off not knowing their HIV status if knowledge of it will mean loss of privacy and dignity if you are HIV positive,” stated Ndadi.
According to the ministry, a clause that empowers doctors to test clients for HIV before surgical or dental procedures is in line with international best practice. Ndadi, on the other hand, disagrees saying international best practice does not support forced tests. He said: “In fact, and just recently, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Intensifying our Efforts to Eliminate HIV and AIDS. Clause 59 (f) of it reads, ‘significantly expanding and promoting voluntary and confidential HIV testing and counselling adding, ” now is this bill promoting voluntary testing? No! The question is, have we run out of universal precaution tools such as gloves hence the need to know who is HIV positive or negative before performing surgery or removing their tooth?”