India, a country in which more women die during pregnancy and childbirth than any other country in the world, and whose government has persistently neglected women’s health and rights, has apparently now decided to impose mandatory testing of pregnant women to ensure an "AIDS-free generation."
ProKerala.com reports a parliamentary forum on HIV and AIDS declared on Friday that "Passing AIDS from mother to child is a human rights violation and soon all pregnant women in India will have to undergo a mandatory HIV test."
“We want a HIV free generation. We are for testing all pregnant women for HIV so that no children can be born with the disease,” Oscar Fernandes, head of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV and AIDS, told IANS.
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“Passing the disease to a new born is a human rights violation. This should stop and all of us must try to make this a success,” Fernandes reportedly said.
India is home to at least 2.5 million HIV positive people and
thousands of babies are born with HIV positive status as they acquire
the virus while in their mother’s womb.
Sexual transmission of HIV is the leading cause of new infections in India (and indeed the single leading cause of HIV worldwide). In fact, women now represent the majority of those infected with HIV worldwide.
Since the majority of women infected with HIV in India contract the virus through sex with their husbands or primary partners, and since mandatory testing puts the onus and stigma on women in a country where people are still killed in or banished from some villages when found to be or suspected of being HIV positive, I am not clear whose rights are being violated here, nor how mandatory testing of pregnant women absent many other conditions will produce an AIDS-free generation.
Moreover, what about the men who infected the women in the first place? Are they free to just go on have sex with, infecting and impregnating the same or other women? Is the purpose of this to get infected women treatment?
Mandatory testing of anyone is a human rights violation, but when it focuses on women alone, it compounds the lifelong and societal discrimination against women often responsible for higher rates of HIV among women in the first place.
ProKerala says that, Fernandes, "appreciated across the country for advocating a
better life for AIDS patients," said:
The new born should not suffer
lifelong without committing any sin. Why should they suffer? Isn’t it a
human rights violation?
Once again, the notion of original sin creeps into public health policy….and exactly what sin do women infected by HIV commit? Having sex with their husbands?
And once again, women are made out to be the "vectors" of disease.
Reportedly this policy is supported by UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe Thursday and discussed the issue with him.
According to ProKerala, Sidibe said:
‘India must produce a generation without HIV’. This is possible if we go for detecting the virus in every single pregnant women before delivery.”
Moreover, India plans to put this effort into the hands of "panchayats," local councils more often than not run and controlled by (upper caste) men and to give money to these bodies for the testing. The possibilities for coercion and corruption are endless.
More to come on this as we investigate further.