A growing number of countries are supporting coercive or discriminatory HIV testing programs that fail to ensure confidentiality, a U.S. human rights group said on Thursday ahead of an international AIDS conference.
Human Rights Watch called on the World Health Organization and the U.N. Joint Program on AIDS to clearly and forcefully state that HIV testing programs must respect human rights and be linked to counseling and treatment.
“It is critical that we expand access to HIV testing,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “But testing programs will fail if they do not also provide people protection from stigma, discrimination and abuse.”
Human Rights Watch said a program in Uganda that provides treatment, counseling, condoms and voluntary HIV testing in people’s homes had cut HIV transmission by 98 percent.
But involuntary programs in the Dominican Republic, Romania and Zimbabwe that failed to protect confidentiality and were not linked to counseling and care had discouraged people from seeking help and increased stigma and abuse, the group said.
Human Rights Watch also cited the government of the Indian state of Goa for wanting mandatory premarital testing and Saudi Arabia for testing all foreign workers and deporting them if they are positive.
The world’s largest international AIDS conference starts in Toronto on Sunday. Worldwide, 39 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS with Sub-Saharan Africa the hardest hit region where about 25 million people are infected.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD