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Zimbabwe President Mugabe Calls For Universal HIV Testing To Curb Disease

Mr. Mugabe told Chinese state television that compulsory testing would only be used by health professionals to identify those in need of treatment while helping those testing positive for HIV to make behavioral changes

President Robert Mugabe said in an interview with Chinese state television that compulsory HIV tests could help curb the spread of the deadly disease, a point of view that drew objections from many Zimbabweans.

Mr. Mugabe, who revealed in 2008 that a member of his family had tested positive for HIV, said in the interview that he wondered why a universal HIV testing program could not be agreed regionally or internationally.

The president said such compulsory testing would only be used by health professionals to identify those in need of treatment and to encourage those infected to make behavioral changes to stop the spread of HIV.

He said the Zimbabwean government has been prevented from adopting compulsory testing by the lack of international agreement on this with regards to possible violations of human rights.

"I don't think that it's a violation of human rights. If there is any justification for [testing]it is because it is a measure to justify stopping the spread of an epidemic,' Mr. Mugabe said in the interview. He added that "we don't have the courage to force testing and the law does not allow it. My feeling is that the law should be amended," though he acknowledged that this would have to be done under a regional or international protocol on the question.

For a closer look at Mr. Mugabe’s controversial proposal, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira we turned to AIDS expert Frenk Guni in Washington and National Aids Council Programs Director Raymond Yekeye in Harare.

Yekeye said that while testing everyone for HIV might be a bold step forward, not everyone who was found to be positive would be able to access antiretroviral drugs still in short supply.

Most guests speaking on the VOA Studio 7 LiveTalk program later Thursday disagreed with Mr. Mugabe, arguing that people should have the right to decide whether or not they want to be tested. They said the government should concentrate on health care delivery and encouraging voluntary testing with available counseling.

But a minority supported Mr Mugabe saying mandatory testing would help maintain a healthy nation.