More flak for Wan Azizah’s mandatory HIV testing call

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib says the testing could be harmful for the woman, even if the test results were negative. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has added to the criticism over the call by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for mandatory HIV testing of non-Muslim couples wanting to get married.

Speaking to FMT, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said although the argument for mandatory premarital HIV testing was to protect women from being infected by their would-be husbands, experience and studies showed it had the potential to harm women.

He said the testing could be harmful for the woman, even if the test results were negative, as she would face “significant” challenges in negotiating safer sex within the marriage.

“This creates considerable vulnerability, including being at risk of gender-based violence and contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.

“If the bride’s result is positive, she is especially vulnerable to discrimination and violence. She could be abandoned by her partner, ostracised by family and even suffer from other consequences of discrimination such as the loss of employment.”

Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Azrul said people living with HIV were still subject to the reality of stigma and discrimination and that there was no study yet to show that Malaysia’s 15-year-old mandatory premarital HIV test for Muslims had been cost effective or yielded the desired results.

He added that it contributed “very little, if at all” to prevention as its rationale was based on religious views and an incomplete understanding of the disease.

Azrul proposed changing the current requirement to voluntary testing accompanied by proper counselling, adding that encouraging people to know their own status was the way forward.

Meanwhile, PT Foundation chairman Hisham Hussein also said he was against the idea of mandatory testing. He said couples should be counselled and made to understand what HIV testing is about.

“Mandatory testing gives couples, especially the wives, a false sense of security thinking that the husband will forever test negative,” said Hisham, whose PT Foundation provides HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care and runs support programmes.

He also questioned whether the government had done a study on the effectiveness of the mandatory premarital HIV testing for Muslims.

“They would have all the statistics from day one of the implementation until now. How many husbands turn positive considering that sexual transmissions make up 91% of new infections?

“We should learn from the past and not blindly follow it.”

The Malaysian AIDS Council had also panned the proposal saying mandatory testing was not an “effective, long-term solution” and that it should be done on a voluntary basis in line with the World Health Organisation’s stand.