Materia Medica Malaysiana

June 30, 2006

Fighting AIDS: Blood test for couples poser

Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 9:48 am

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Should couples who want to get married take a blood test to determine whether they are HIV-positive?
The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) is all for it, but the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) has reservations. The Malaysian Hindu Sangam is considering whether such a law should cover Hindus as well.
Jakim director-general Datuk Mustafa Abdul Rahman said compulsory testing for Muslim couples was being carried out in seven States: Johor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Selangor, Perak, Perlis and Malacca.
He was commenting on a proposal yesterday by the Cabinet Committee on HIV/AIDS to make it compulsory for Muslim couples to undergo such a test before being allowed to marry.
“Jakim and state Islamic affairs departments have agreed that couples about to get married must be tested and now, following the decision by the Cabinet Committee, we will expand this to the other States,” he said when contacted.
He said he would meet state department officials to discuss plans to implement this as soon as possible.

MAC, meanwhile, feels that compulsory testing could compromise confidentiality and the quality of counselling.
“MAC has always been very, very uncomfortable with this,” council president Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said.
“While we encourage people to come forward for testing, especially with the treatment available, there should be adequate dissemination of knowledge and counselling, especially if they are HIV-positive.”
UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation recommend that testing be voluntary and confidential, accompanied by counselling and conducted only with informed consent, meaning that it is both informed and voluntary.
Both bodies support mandatory screening for HIV only if blood is destined for transfusion or for manufacturing blood products.
Dr Adeeba said a one-off test would not help if people were not aware of what HIV was all about.
(The blood result of someone who is HIV-positive may show that he or she is free of the virus if they have taken the test during the window period when the virus is not yet present in the body. This requires a second test. First tests may show a false positive, which means a second, and sometimes third, test is required.)
“Everyone should come in for testing but it should not be forced upon them,” Dr Adeeba said.
“We have compulsory testing in prisons and drug rehabilitation centres and we are not seeing it as being really effective.”
She said testing would not make a difference if it did not lead to behavioural changes.
“Yes, people need to know their status, but they also need to know how to handle it,” she said.

Catholic priest and moral theologian Rev Dr Clarence Devadass said there should be a law to make it compulsory for a HIV-positive person to tell his or her partner and their family of their status, but agreed that voluntary testing was acceptable.
“We encourage couples to do blood tests. It is for your own general health,” he said.
He said if an individual knew that he or she was HIV-positive and refused to tell their partner or potential spouse, society had a responsibility to inform the uninfected partner.
“That’s the principle of justice, which outweighs the principle of confidentiality,” he said.
Devadass also welcomed the idea of promoting HIV/AIDS awareness to captive audiences, saying the Catholic stand was abstinence.
He said the Catholic church did not condone the needle-exchange programme, the distribution of condoms or methadone substitution therapy.

The Hindu Sangam will consider whether HIV testing should be made compulsory for Hindus, said its president, Datuk A. Vaithilingam.
“I am not saying we are formaking it compulsory at the moment because we have to consider all angles first. We have to be very careful,” he said.
The Hindu Sangam will next month call for a meeting of national Hindu organisations and spiritual leaders to discuss the matter.
Asked whether he was for compulsory testing, Vaithilingam, who is also the vice-president of the Malaysian AIDS Council, said: “Not yet. We want to go through everything very carefully.”

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