Plans to make HIV/AIDS a notifiable illness in South Africa has ignited fears that the disease will fall under a renewed veil of secrecy and an increase in discrimination against sufferers of the disease, an activist of the National Association of
People Living with HIV/AIDS told IRIN on Monday.
Under a proposed new amendment to health care regulations, health workers will be required to disclose the HIV status of their patients to the authorities and to the patient's immediate family. Full disclosure would also have to be given to those who might be providing care to the patient.
The activist said that whilst openness about a person's HIV status was "a good thing", it had to be based on a policy of voluntary disclosure. He said: "A person's decision to tell the world whether they are HIV positive has to be done without force."
He said that in communities where there was still fear and stigma
associated with the disease, "there is a risk that incidents of both physical and emotional abuse of people could increase, simply because they have AIDS. This could drive the issue further underground."
But at a recent meeting of regional health ministers, South Africa's health minister, Nkosazana Zuma said: "We can't afford to be dictated to by human rights or AIDS activists. We need to do what is right. We want to know who is dying of AIDS and relatives and partners must be notified. It is time we treated AIDS as a public health issue like TB. We don't go about treating that with secrecy."
Recently a prominent South African judge, Edwin Cameron disclosed that he was HIV positive. Official figures estimate that there are four million South Africans who are HIV-positive, with more than 1,500 new infections every day.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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