Goa

So you don’t to want pre-marriage HIV test done because you want privacy…

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While an unnecessary debate, whether HIV/AIDS test should be mandatory or not raises, we ask the doubting Thomases to talk to these four women who got HIV becasue their husband’s married them with the infection. Now they are about to take their wife’s life, even after they are dead.

* Arti never knew what HIV/AIDS was until her husband fell seriously ill. Tests revealed that he was HIV positive. She was also advised to go for HIV/AIDS test. This was four years back. In 2002, she lost her husband. Even Arti’s elder daughter was found positive. From then life has become an unending struggle: struggle to live, earn and lead a healthy life. Living with HIV/AIDS, Arti is trying hard to ensure that two of her children who were tested HIV negative have a secure future.

* Sheela’s was a child marriage. At the age of four, her parents got her married to a person much older to her. At the age of 12, she came to live in Goa. She had five kids. Four years ago her husband died of HIV/AIDS. Later her three kids also fell prey to the dreaded disease and lost their lives. Her only consolation is that two of her younger children were tested negative.

* Everything was perfect for Sarita. She had a caring family; a loving husband and she felt her world was complete when the doctor told her that she was pregnant. They felt blessed and happy. But this happiness was short-lived. Without informing the couple, Sarita’s gynaecologist got an HIV/AIDS test and the result was positive. Life changed forever. Since last two years she is a victim of blame game and acute criticism, which increased when her husband was also found to be HIV positive.

* From a lower middle class family, Shabnam’s life has been full of thorns. She was forced to drop out of school and work as a daily wage earner. At the age of 17, her parents got her married to a man, who worked as a bus driver. After marriage she used to fall sick often. Life at her in-laws place was a nightmare and she hardly used to be with her husband. After two years, her husband expired and she was blamed for his death. As her health deteriorated, she was asked to do an HIV/AIDS test. She was also found to be positive.

Arti, Sheela, Sarita and Shabnam’s experiences in life maybe different, but they share a harsh reality: they all infected the disease from their husband after marriage. Living and struggling with HIV/AIDS, they strongly support Goa government’s decision to make HIV/AIDS test mandatory before marriage. After all AIDS affects people primarily when they are most productive and leads to premature death thereby severely affecting the socio-economic structure of whole families, communities and nations.

It must be recalled that the Goa government is planning to make HIV testing a mandatory requirement for couples planning to get married. Couples would be tested to find out their HIV status, and then – depending on the results – decide whether or not to go through with the ceremony. However, a final decision will be taken only after public consensus is reached on the issue.

Even as many raise questions about the social fate of people tested HIV positive, thereby creating a new stigmatised underclass, these HIV positive women believe that it is only mandatory HIV testing that would curb the spread of the disease. Not only will it save young women from falling prey to the disease but also prevent mother-to-child transmission. After all, majority of women infected with HIV/AIDS in Goa are in the age group of 15 to 35.

Before writing off the policy as unethically draconian, check out what these women have to say:

IT’S MY RIGHT:

If right to privacy is a fundamental human right and people living with HIV/AIDS have a right to live without discrimination. Then women’s right to safe sexuality and to autonomy in all decisions relating to sexuality also needs to be respected. Living with HIV/AIDS, four of them strongly believe that if right to privacy is a fundamental right embalmed in the Constitution of India, then right to live is an equally important right and no one should be denied that right. They believe, “By and large, most men, however poor can choose when, with whom and with what protection if any, to have sex. Most women cannot. Often men even after knowing their HIV status marry a woman, thereby denying her right to live. Which is a greater right: Right to live or right to privacy?”

RESTRAIN THYSELF:

If you make the test mandatory, people will be more careful and not risk their life as well as the lives of their partner. They will be scared and restrain from leading an unhealthy sexual life for they know that there is a mandatory testing before marriage. This is a shared view. Sarita adds, “It is very difficult for a woman with HIV/AIDS. Besides, stigma and social ostracism there is this ever-growing financial tension and fear of an uncertain future and inevitable death”.

IT’S A LIFELONG AFFAIR:

This one is for those who argue that mandatory testing prior to marriage would only give the state a false sense of security and a false belief that the infection is being effectively prevented from spreading. They believe that along with testing government should also make counselling mandatory to prevent any untoward happening in the future. Still better, Arti says, “Testing should be done at regular intervals and there should be timely intervention to ensure that menace of HIV/AIDS is curbed. Besides, testing should be affordable and within the reach of ordinary people. After all everyone wants to live and live a healthy life of dignity and peace.” But how would the policy protect women in India, when many of them end up being infected after marriage by unfaithful spouses? “You have to make a beginning,” she adds.

NEED OF THE HOUR: The common view: HIV/AIDS destroys families and houses. It not only affects the couple infected with HIV/AIDS but also devastates parents of the girls infected with HIV/AIDS. Sheela says, “HIV/AIDS testing is necessary not just to save a partner but also to save the future generation. So many kids are born with HIV/AIDS because their parents are ignorant about their HIV status. It is painful to see your kids suffer and die of HIV in front of your eyes. We need to protect their innocence and ensure a better, safer life for them.”

DO WE HAVE A VOICE?: Women cannot negotiate safe sex because of her low status in society or lack of personal power. “Therefore, men whether knowingly infected or unaware of their HIV status, have a special responsibility of not putting others at risk. Women are in fact more at risk of getting infected because of their increased vulnerability. In addition, their low status within the family and society further heighten their vulnerability to infection,” opined Shabnam.

WHY IS THERE OPPOSITION TO MAKING THE TEST MANDATORY BEFORE MARRIAGE?

WINDOW PERIOD: The window period. Window period is one in which even though a person is infected with HIV, she/he would be tested negative, as her/his antibodies are not developed.

FALSE ALARM: False positive results may actually ruin the life of a person not who is not HIV positive and destroy their career and life.

RUNNING AWAY FROM REALITY: Mandatory testing would only drive the disease underground and would be very costly for the state in the long run. Not many persons are aware of HIV, the nature of the disease, the testing methods, the methods of transmission of HIV, etc. Due to the ignorance, there is fear even to get an HIV test done.

NACO SAYS…: It is against the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) policy on testing, which encourages voluntary testing after pre-test counselling as the appropriate public health strategy in dealing with HIV/AIDS and the Union Health Minister has been quoted recently reaffirming this stand. Besides it is contrary to fundamental rights of Indian citizens RUNAWAY MARRIAGE: Further, it would only have the consequence of people going outside the state to marry, where such tests are not required.

ITS CONFIDENTIAL!: The results should be kept confidential. But here you are sharing the results with the prospective bride or groom.

YET TO PASS THE TEST: It has been tried out at other places and failed. The American Civil Liberties Union Report of March 1998 reported that mandatory pre-marital HIV testing was a record of failure. It stated that more than 30 states in the USA considered pre-marital HIV testing. However, all the states except for Illinois and Louisiana rejected the idea. Illinois and Louisiana enacted and enforced mandatory pre-marital testing, but subsequently repealed them.

VOX POP

1. UK Vohra, Health Secretary, Goa

“Government has proposed to make the test mandatory. We are throwing the issue open for public debate. At the moment there are two schools of thought: one for the test and another against it. We will call all the opinion makers and debate whether a consensus can be reached on the issue. We don’t want to rake controversies.

2. Dr Denis Broun, Country Director, United Nations AIDS programme

“You can curb the disease only by spreading information, counselling and convincing families to go for HIV test before marriage. The government shouldn’t interfere and introduce mandatory testing before marriage.”

3. Rosy da Silva, artist

“I would definitely insist on a HIV/AIDS test before marriage. No one wants to fall into the trap. After all a relation is based on trust and truth, so does one person has the right to destroy his/her partner’s life. Right to live is a much bigger right than right to privacy.”

4. Rohit Phalgaonkar, teacher

“Personally speaking, I would get myself tested and also encourage my partner to get tested. However, it is more of a personal matter and the couple need to reach a consensus on the issue. More than making the test mandatory, the focus should be on spreading awareness about the disease.”

IF YOU CAN DO THIS… THEN …

* If you can get tested and produce HIV free certificate when going for a job abroad, why can’t you get yourself tested before marriage?

* If people are more worried about stigma and right to privacy, then the government, as a people’s representative is worried about large scale spread of pandemic like situation and denial of right to live for many innocent souls.

(Credits: Preetu Nair GT)

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  2. By IndianPad on February 3, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    So you don’t to want pre-marriage HIV test done because you want privacy…

    So you don’t to want pre-marriage HIV test done because you want privacy… posted at IndianPad.com

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