South African health authorities will soon lunch a highly criticised HIV testing campaign for schools. But Parents, backed by several groups, believe that the campaign could have a devastating impact on children. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s health ministry has announced that an estimated 47 000 HIV positive pregnancies this year will result in tens of thousands of HIV positive births.
A massive HIV testing drive in South Africa targeting schools has caused an uproar among parents and student unions who have accused the government of planning to use statistics from student testing to reach set targets.
The South African government is aiming to test 15 million people for HIV/AIDS by June 2011.
With the roll out of the planned voluntary testing expected to take place anytime soon, reports say that teacher unions, legal experts and child rights organizations have demanded to know exactly how this will work.
The voluntary campaign is expected to be rolled out at high schools and tests will be performed in private spaces on school premises during weekends and school holidays.
While the groups argue that the planned HIV testing has the potential to raise serious human rights concerns, the country’s main students body the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) has described the campaign as a “bomb waiting to explode”.
Cosas president Bongani Mani is quoted saying: “The country has not dealt with the stigma attached. You cannot expect a learner to go for such a life-changing test and then go back to class as if nothing happened.
“Serious medical tests such as HIV and Aids should be done outside the school. Schools are for learning and should remain so.”
It is “something we fully support”, Health Department spokesman Fidel Hadebe defends the campaign as he describes extension of the campaign to pupils as overdue.
But Parents are worried that children found to be carrying the HIV virus would not be able to deal with the psychological pressure.
However Mani says that “if the testing takes place we would like full psycho-social support in the form of the presence of parents, social workers and councilors in order to ease the burden on teachers”.
Several publications quote health experts raising concerns as to whether learners would be able to keep their status secret especially since those who test positive are usually kept longer in counseling, thereby revealing their positive status to other people in attendance.
Nonetheless, advocates for the campaign say it is never too early to begin school testing as figures show that children are sexually active at a young age and want children older than 11 to be tested without parental consent.
Zimbabwe’s soaring rates
In another related development in neighboring Zimbabwe, its health minister Henry Madzorera has disclosed that close to 14 000 births with the deadly virus from an estimated 47 000 HIV positive pregnant women will occur in 2011.
“Out of the estimated 47 000 HIV-infected pregnant women in 2011, about 14 000 children will become infected with HIV without any intervention. However, with high quality of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission interventions, this figure can be reduced to 2 350,” said the minister.
He, however, does not explain how they came up with the figure of women to fall pregnant. Heath statistics reveal that about 150 000 children below the age of 15 are living with the virus in the southern African country because more than 90 per cent of them acquired the virus from their mothers.
The health ministry, which is heavily dependent on international donors, is exploring ways of increasing funding for Aids programmes.