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Officials in India Want to Make Couples Get an HIV Test Before They Marry

While WHO reports say getting tested is an important measure for prevention, social activists argue that making it compulsory violates individual rights.

by Shamani Joshi
11 July 2019, 2:22am

Photo via Pixabay

Just a week before the monsoon session of the State Legislative Assembly in Goa, a state in India, kicks off, the state’s health minister Vishwajit Rane declared on July 9 that the government was considering making HIV tests mandatory for couples wanting to register for marriage. The state had announced something similar back in 2006 under a different health minister, when the state cabinet had approved the proposal to amend the Goa Public Health Act and make premarital HIV testing mandatory. However, this never crossed over from the planning stage and collapsed before it could be turned into a law.

Now, Rane, who is also a Minister for Law in the state, has said that the proposal is being vetted by the Law Department to ensure that it does not violate any existing laws. “I had this thought and I have now put it for legal examination as it has to go through scrutiny to ensure that is in the public interest of the couple,” Rane told VICE. “We want to do it now as it helps in creating awareness around HIV, given that the number of cases are still high, and not to violate any rights or discriminate against those who test positive.”

According to the 2017 data by the Goa State AIDS Control Society (GSACS), HIV cases—which were on a sharp decline from 901 HIV-positive cases in 2009 to 329 in 2015—rose up in 2016 to 360, while 2017 saw over 260 new recorded cases.

A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on HIV prevention talks about how testing is an essential element of treatment. However, according to a report published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, making the HIV test mandatory has its set of issues. The report argues that such a test may socially ostracise someone who tests positive, and questions what recourse the state will take in such a situation and whether it has the right to deny such a marriage.

It also points out that making such a test compulsory only before marriage makes the assumption that the couple has not had sex before tying the knot which is often not the case. Then there is also the issue of whether the government can ensure that such tests are safely conducted and if giving the government access to this medical data will lead to discrimination.

While 30 states in the US contemplated making testing compulsory, it was ultimately only adopted in the states of Illinois and Louisiana but was quickly repealed. Malaysia had adopted a similar policy in its Johor province, but it remains unclear as to whether this actually helped since they also adopted many other preventive measures. Meanwhile, churches in Ghana also tried to make this test mandatory for married couples, but ended up making it voluntary instead.

However, Rane maintains that this law—a way to make sure that no one gets infected because of ignorance—will only be passed after being thoroughly investigated. “The government will not collect data on the HIV status of marriage certificate applicants,” he said, “This (test) will only ensure that the partners conduct the tests and disclose the results to each other”

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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.