President Robert Mugabe on Sunday proposed introduction of compulsory HIV testing in the SADC region as one way of fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Mugabe made the suggestion in Lilongwe, Malawi, during a meeting of Heads of State and Government on AIDS Watch Africa (AWA) on the side-lines of the 33rd SADC Summit.
He said if the region was to make headway in the fight against HIV and AIDS, the matter ought to be treated in the same way other medical conditions, such as polio, are treated.
“The problem is that when it comes to HIV/AIDS testing, issues of freedom and rights come into play and yet, we force people to go for testing and vaccinations for diseases such as polio,” said Mugabe.
He said much as individual freedom should be respected, universal and compulsory testing of HIV could be the most viable way.
He further tipped member states on how successfully his country was fairing in mitigating the impact of HIV and AIDS by introducing levies to support families affected by the pandemic.
But regional leaders at the meeting differed with Mugabe on the idea of enforcement of compulsory HIV testing saying it was not feasible.
Among those who opposed Mugabe’s idea was Botswana President Ian Khama who proposed the need for early interventions.
“Since the logistics of making universal and compulsory testing would be high, funds meant for development would be diverted towards funding the initiative,” said Khama.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila said there was need for member states to consider production of ARVs within the region in order for the region to succeed in combating HIV and its impact on SADC countries.
But Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, pointed out that the best way of attracting people to get tested for HIV was for the leaders themselves to be in the fore front.
“I got tested together with my wife in public and in front of cameras; believe me, on that day, thousands of Tanzanians followed my example,” said Kikwete. “Today, over 18 million Tanzanians are tested and they know their respective status.”
The leaders however, agreed that there was need for more resources in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and procurement of ARVs.
Malawi President and new SADC Chair, Joyce Banda, who is championing the AWA Revitalisation and Status of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in the SADC region, chaired the meeting.