By Sandra Birungi
HIV testing has now been made compulsory for every person who goes to public health centers for treatment.
The Ministry of Health said this is to help increase access to HIV treatment and prevention alike. The project was named ‘Provider-initiated testing’ and will provide services ranging from HIV counseling and testing. Guidelines for the program were issued by the World Health Organization back in 2007.
According to Dr. Alex Ario, the acting manager of the AIDS Control Program, the testing will cover health centre IIIs and IVs across the country this year and will also include some private health facilities which will receive supplies from the Government and also implement the program at no cost to patients.
“Mandatory HIV testing will now be part of the many tests conducted whenever a patient is admitted. It will be part and parcel of our routine medical care practice to let more people know their status to augment HIV prevention and treatment campaigns,” said Ario. However, despite it being compulsory, it is still optional if the patient wants to know his or her results. “Mandatory testing is advantageous to us health workers as well as the patients. It will promote better management of ailments. But this does not mean that patients will not be counselled,” Ario said. “If a patient is unwilling to know his HIV status on the first visit to the health centre, we shall wait until he returns and is ready to receive the results,” he added.
Before, it was made compulsory for every pregnant woman to go for HIV testing in a bid to reduce on the mother to child form of HIV transmission. According to government statistics, HIV testing is available at 80% of county-level health centres, but only 22% of sub-county-level health centres. The number of people tested for HIV annually has gone up from 1.1 million in 2008 to 5.5 million in 2011. The new strategy is part of efforts to lower Uganda’s HIV prevalence, which climbed from 6.4% to 7.3% between 2006 and 2011.
“There are so many benefits of knowing one’s HIV status. Those who are HIV-negative will be careful and avoid engaging in risky behavior. They will carry out preventive options such as partner notification, abstinence and safer sex,” Ario explained. “Those who are HIV-positive will be enrolled in antiretroviral treatment and have increased opportunities for social support to live normally.”