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Zimbabwe: Test All for HIV, Says President

HARARE, 23 September 2010 ( — President Mugabe has suggested that one of the most effective ways of dealing with the HIV and AIDS pandemic is to treat it as a public health emergency and enforce compulsory testing for everyone.


In an interview with CCTV in New York on Tuesday, the President said similar measures to those instituted in past outbreaks, such as smallpox, were needed for effective intervention.


The Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said this would, however, only be possible if conducted at a regional and international level with all countries carrying out compulsory testing in tandem.


Giving his personal opinion when asked how best to deal with the pandemic, he said: "To tell you the truth, I am of the view that HIV and AIDS, being so devastating an epidemic, governments of the region -- perhaps universally -- should agree that it's not a violation of rights to subject people to medical examinations . . .


"This is as long as the results remain between the doctor and the person being tested and are not made public. This will determine who is carrying it and who is not.


"But then you have this human rights thing that says you cannot force someone to be tested and in that regard it (compulsory testing) is not good.


"I don't think that it's a violation of human rights. If there is any justification for it (testing), it is because it is a measure to justify stopping the spread of an epidemic."


President Mugabe said the law did not allow such testing at present and said it was his opinion that the individual legislatures and governments should look into this.


"At the moment that's the main inhibition on the part of Government, we don't have the courage to force testing and the law does not allow it.


"My feeling is that the law should be amended . . . but this must be done regionally and internationally.


"Once upon a time when I was young, we had the entirety of the population vaccinated against smallpox.


"If it was compulsory for the smallpox, for precautions, if it was right then why is it not right now?" he asked.


President Mugabe added: "Essentially it is the same; the lives, the health of people, prevention of death -- death of communities in a calamitous way."


He said while the social factors surrounding smallpox and HIV and Aids were very different, at the end of the day, the effects of the current pandemic were more devastating than past ones.


"(Fear of) discrimination should not count as being of greater weight than the need to prevent the spread of the disease across the community, across the nation," he said.


United Nations agencies have for years lauded Zimbabwe's HIV and Aids intervention models, which have seen the prevalence rate declining from a high of around 25 percent a decade ago to present levels of below 14 percent.


Zimbabwe's AIDS levy has also been commended for being an innovative way of locally funding interventions.


The country has also made eradicating HIV and AIDS and other communicable diseases one of its Millennium Development Goals' focus areas.


Cuba has a system of compulsory testing that has seen the largest island in the Caribbean recording miniscule infection rates