PRE-MARITAL HIV TESTING IS A SHORTCUT TO NOWHERE
The Maharashtra government’s proposal is aimed at shielding women but it could end up adding to their vulnerability
HE MAHARASHTRA government is considering a proposal to make HIV test mandatory before marriage. The proposal is seemingly an attempt to protect women from contracting HIV from their husbands. However, evidence shows that such testing is ineffective in preventing transmission.
The proposal is not new. It has been considered in Kerala (2011), Jharkhand (2010), Goa (2006), Andhra Pradesh (2002) and in Maharashtra itself in 2008. Each time, the proposal was abandoned or rejected for manifold reasons.
First and foremost, the National HIV/AIDS Control Programme, implemented by the health ministry’s National AIDS Control Organisation ( NACO), is founded on a rights-based approach. It is based on the understanding that the epidemic can be addressed only by respecting the rights of people living with HIV and those vulnerable. Three fundamental aspects of this approach are informed consent, confidentiality and non- discrimination. When rights are violated, people lose confidence in the public health system, causing the epidemic to go underground.
Mandatory testing is antithetical to the rights-based approach. It overrides an individual’s right to make decisions about their body and thereby violates their right to informed consent. There is also a serious risk of the HIV status of a person becoming public, violating their right to confidentiality. A large number of marriages in India are arranged with the participation of the prospective spouses’ families. If a person tests positive, the results would be shared with everyone involved, thus making it public, with grave reper-