Thursday, May 05, 2011

Does the ACDP want to invade your privacy through compulsory HIV testing?

Cheryllyn Dudley
Image courtesy Cheryllyn Dudley’s
Facebook profile
. . . probably not!*

BushRadioNews reported today that the ACDP, via ACDP Member of Parliament, Cheryllyn Dudley, is calling for compulsory HIV testing for basically anyone within the borders of South Africa, that is for residents and visitors!

I don’t know if this is a new call for compulsory testing, since BushRadioNews does not provide any link to the original news story or press release. However, I do know that the ACDP has been calling for this since at least 2004. It can be viewed at their website here, here and here, and also in the IDASA report entitled HIV/AIDS and Democratic Governance in South Africa: Illustrating the Impact on Electoral Processes (PDF).

It is funny to hear of such a call from a conservative party. Usually you see this kind of thing from “progressives” and liberals. Liberals always want to control others, even under the guise of helping people. Taking away someone’s liberty is not helping them. It simply replaces the dependence on something else. (Again, I did not mean to imply that it is the ACDP's meaning in this call to control others.*)

Calling for compulsory testing from someone who does not have the disease is to invade that person’s privacy and dignity. Testing can, and should only be on a voluntary basis. Remember, this is not just about mandatory testing for HIV. Once a freedom, any freedom, has been usurped, no matter how small, the next freedom will be so much easier to take away, and even given up by the populace without even thinking about it. Freedoms are lost in small steps. Hardly any freedoms are lost all at once, unless they are taken away by force! What would be the next step? Tattoos on the foreheads of those that are HIV+?

There are always exceptions to almost anything in life. While I am against compulsory testing on just about anything, in the case of rape, the victim has a right to know the HIV status of the rapist, for obvious reasons.

When it comes to the so-called HIV/AIDS epidemic, the fact is that it is not a threat to everyone! Because the disease is not spread casually, such as the flu virus, smallpox or even the plague, for instance, it would be ethically wrong and counterproductive to force anyone to be tested without probable cause.
DNA Strands
Image courtesy Sentient Online

Because it has been propagated mostly by political forces that everyone is at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, it has become acceptable to believe that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is on a par and as vicious a killer as the old-time plague. However, that is not the truth. HIV/AIDS is not a casual spreading virus and is most commonly spread through sex, blood transfusions, sharing of needles, pregnancy, since these are the times that people come into contact with blood, semen and vaginal fluids.

Compulsory testing highlight some ethical problems:
  • The spread of HIV/AIDS is still connected to several definable behaviour patterns, and therefore, testing everyone when the road of transmission is known, is unethical. Obviously, there are exceptions such as in rape cases.
  • Compulsory testing will add a huge burden to South Africa’s already stricken health budget.
  • Since there is no real cure for HIV/AIDS, what will be done with all those who test positive? Give free ARV to all of them, even those who contracted the virus through those definable behaviour patterns?
  • Compulsory testing among the high-risk groups such as homosexuals, sexually active individuals with multiple partners, IV drug users and others, also has its own problems. The question remains if even this group would not rather move off the radar screen, and as a result away from medical help?
Voluntary testing should be used only, and a person’s HIV status should be kept in the highest of confidence, unless that person authorises the dissemination of that information. Again, there could be exceptions such as habitual sex offenders that should be tested.

Finally, the South African constitution, in the Bill of Rights, under the “Privacy” clause, says that everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have “their person or home searched.” I would say that mandatory HIV testing must be included in this phrase. Surely, it is having my person searched without probable cause?

I personally believe that this call by the ACDP to have compulsory HIV testing is a bad policy.** The global knowledge of a person’s HIV status can seriously impact that person’s life and family beyond repair. Of course, it can be claimed that this knowledge will be kept secret, yet, what will this information be used for anyhow, and if it is compulsory, what will the information be useful for if it is kept secret?

In the end it is an invasion of privacy without probable cause!

Update
* 2011-05-09 - After I was castigated on my Facebook page for this post, I decided to change the subject line to a question. One person in particular felt that the subject line was sensational and implicated the ACDP in some sinister move to steal away people's freedoms. That was not my intention, to label either Cheryllyn Dudley or the ACDP in that way. So, for those whose feelings and sensibilities were hurt, I am sorry. Forgive me for that!
** 2011-05-09 - I do believe that the policies of the ACDP are of the best to be offered to this country; however, that does not mean I agree with everything they do or say.

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