26 August 2017
TWO human rights organisations have welcomed Zambia’s confirmation of informed consent to HIV testing and treatment.
The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) have welcomed the clarification by Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya that the expansion of provider-initiated HIV testing and adoption of test-and-treat will be continued with due respect for the right to informed consent.
“We were gravely concerned by last week’s announcement by Zambian President Edgar Lungu that HIV testing, counselling and treatment would be compulsory in Zambia for any person seeking medical treatment in public healthcare facilities,” ARASA director Michaela Clayton said.
“The right to make a decision to test for HIV based on informed consent is protected by the human rights law, but is also crucial from a public health perspective, as it enables people to act on the knowledge they obtain through the test.”
The majority of people living with HIV in southern Africa do not know their status, which poses a serious threat to achieving the 90-90-90 targets of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).
The targets set out to ensure that 90 percent of all people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 percent of people with diagnosed HIV infection receive sustained combination of antiretroviral treatment (ART) and 90 percent of all people receiving ART have viral suppression.
This realisation has often resulted in considerations for more aggressive responses, in which certain human rights protections are suspended or restricted for the benefit of the greater good – pitting a “rights-based” approach against a “public health” approach.
However, the protection of human rights in the context of HIV has been proven to be crucial for HIV prevention and treatment outcomes.