If you suspect you are HIV positive and want privacy, then stay away from hospitals. Parliament is currently debating a bill that seeks to empower medical practitioners to force patients to undergo HIV/AIDS tests without their consent, test patients for the virus without their knowledge and breach the confidentiality by reporting patients who test positive to the Director of Health Services.
The bill which has a raft of provisions which the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), says “have no place in a democratic and modern day Botswana” states that patients due for surgical or dental procedure can be required to undergo an HIV test before the procedure. “In other words, your dentist may refuse to remove your tooth before you test for HIV. Is there a medical justification for this? NO!!!!” charges BONELA.
In a press statement, BONELA argues that the rationale for forcing patients to take HIV tests or testing patients for the virus without seeking their consent “is not provided for in the Bill.
Despite it being unacceptable, it can be abused by curious doctors. The wisdom of that is unknown. Essentially, the two foregoing provisions throw the right to privacy which is entrenched in our constitution out of the window.
The bill further seeks to force people living with HIV to tell whomsoever they have sexual relations with their HIV status. “This provision is regressive in that it undermines the value of knowing one’s status. People are better off not knowing their status if knowledge of one’s status forces one to tell whoever they have sex with. Furthermore, not knowing one’s status can be a good line of defence in a court of law if one is charged with infecting another person with HIV. Emphasize should be on promoting safe sex by all, irrespective of whether one knows their status or not. Women, who are normally the first to test, will be hard done by this law because an assumption will be created that since they came to know of their status first, then they infected their male partners who ordinarily test through their partners, or after their partners or never test at all.” The bill also seeks to empower doctors to tell their patient’s sexual partner of their HIV status without their consent. “The checks and balances put in place are not pragmatic and can be susceptible to abuse.”
The bill, which is expected to pass into a law during the current sitting of Parliament, will also limit the right to freedom of movement for HIV positive persons. An HIV infected person may be detained and isolated if there is evidence that they are likely to infect other persons.
The law will also take away the parental consent and guardianship from parents of minors and place them in the hands of doctors. BONELA argues that is unconstitutional and unlawful as the upper guardian of all children is the High Court and not doctors. Doctors’ duty is to treat and not to make decisions about the interests of the children when they have legal guardians. If the legal guardians unreasonably withhold their consent then we have the High Court to intervene
BONELA Executive Secretary, Uyapo Ndadi said, “We are concerned by government attitude and tendency of introducing Bills in Parliament and debate them before engaging all stakeholders including the civil society and Batswana as a whole. We know that the Botswana Health Professions Council is not aware of this Bill for they have not been consulted on it. As custodians of health we expect them to be intimately involved as this Bill is going to affect the way they work. This bill is significant in the lives of all of us and we therefore call upon Reverend Dr. John G.N. Seakgosing to withdraw it and if he refuses to, we urge MPs to reject it. Participatory democracy is about engaging communities.”