By Ronald Musoke
The Ministry of Health has today, Feb.26, come out to clarify recent media reports that all people seeking treatment from public health facilities across the country will be required to undergo mandatory HIV testing first.
According to a statement from the health ministry that was signed by Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Director General of Health Services, HIV testing is voluntary, meaning that no one can be forced to undertake the test.
She said this is done in respect to human rights obligations as per the 2011 HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT) policy which states that no person shall be forced to test for HIV when they have not consented, save for circumstances that warrant mandatory testing.
The policy says mandatory testing is recommended in cases of rape or defilement where the offender and the victim are forced to test to rule out infection and when one is donating blood to rule out HIV infection so that it is not passed onto the recipient.
A clinician may also decide to carry out HIV testing to any patient for diagnostic and patient management purposes, however, the results are only revealed to the patient if they have consented to the test.
Aceng noted that the programme referred to in the media focuses at offering opportunity for HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT) to every person who reports to a health facility.
The programme, popularly known as Provider HIV Testing and Counseling (PITC), seeks to diagnose for HIV among people who report to the facility for routine services who would otherwise miss the chance of knowing their status.
She said this programme is not new and has been implemented for the last five years in all hospitals, all Health Center IVs and in about 70% of Health Center IIIs.
According to the health ministry statistics, the number of people testing annually in Uganda has gone up, rising from 1.1m in 2008 to 5.5m in 2011. The new strategy is part of efforts to lower Uganda’s HIV prevalence which climbed from 6.4% to 7.3% between 2006 and 2011.
Studies have also shown that beyond the benefits of having HIV-positive people identified and referred for treatment, provider-initiated counseling and testing may also result in less risky sexual behaviour thus reducing levels of HIV transmission.