AIDS council slams proposed mandatory HIV tests for non-Muslims

The Malaysian AIDS Council says conducting compulsory HIV screenings is not an effective, long-term solution to combat rising HIV cases. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) has panned a proposal by the women, family and community development ministry to make HIV tests compulsory for non-Muslims intending to tie the knot.

In a statement, MAC said conducting compulsory HIV screenings is not an “effective, long-term solution” to combat rising HIV cases, adding that HIV testing should only be done on a voluntary basis.

“This is in line with the stand of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which outlines the policy and practice of not recognising any kind of screening test that is performed involuntarily,” MAC said.

“The negative results from a screening test does not guarantee if a person will remain negative if they are involved in high-risk activities such as unprotected sex and sharing of contaminated needles.

“While the HIV screening for the soon-to-be bride is only done once, the risk for HIV infections is lifelong.”

MAC pointed out that the negative reading of an HIV screening before marriage would not bring about any “guarantee of safety” in terms of HIV risks after the marriage.

“The mandatory HIV test will be perceived as having a minimal impact in controlling the spread of HIV without specific intervention taken to prevent this infection,” it said.

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, causes HIV infection and over time, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

AIDS is where the progressive failure of the immune system allows life-threatening infections and cancers to thrive.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail yesterday said that her ministry would be discussing with relevant ministries on the proposal.

At present, there are no provisions that make it compulsory for non-Muslim couples to be tested for HIV.

“In principle, we support (compulsory HIV testing) but it involves costs and provisions, we do agree and we will work on getting it,” Wan Azizah said when winding up the debate on the Supply Bill 2019 for her ministry at the Dewan Negara.

Wan Azizah said so far, discussions with members of an interfaith council had been good.

MAC said voluntary HIV screenings should be done at all government clinics nationwide and HIV treatments should be sponsored by the health ministry.

It also said that those who wished to undergo HIV screenings should be given counselling before and after the tests so that they “understand, discuss preventive methods, and if needed, discuss treatment options”.

“MAC is ready to assist and give its views to whichever related ministries as well as parties for their consideration,” it said.

Wan Azizah had cited the possible involvement of the home and finance ministries as non-Muslim marriages are bound by civil law and carrying out the mandatory testing would require costs.

Meanwhile, the Kuala Lumpur AIDS Support Services Society (Klass) cautioned against the implementation of Wan Azizah’s proposal.

“We hope the ministry will use this opportunity to put in place a premarital HIV testing programme that encourages linkage to treatment and care and minimises harm,” Klass general manager Martin Choo said.

Speaking to FMT, Choo said that in mandatory HIV testing, if counselling those who go through HIV screenings and generating awareness on risks for infections were not followed, it could result in harming those who were tested.

“There should be a mechanism to ensure people who tested HIV positive are supported and linked into treatment and care. This is not always the case with mandatory testing regimens.

“With treatment as prevention, it is now possible for couples, where one is HIV positive and another HIV negative, to produce healthy non-HIV infected babies,” he added.