Compulsory HIV tests for couples

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2006.12.19

The government of India's Andhra Pradesh state says a new law will soon make it compulsory for couples to take an HIV test before marriage.
"Those who want their marriage to be registered should get the HIV/Aids test done," said health minister K Rosaiah.

He was speaking as state assembly members underwent public HIV tests to encourage awareness of the virus.

India has the world's highest number of HIV infections, the UN says. Andhra Pradesh is one of its worst-hit states.

'Inspirations'

The Andhra Pradesh government says all staff and security personnel at the state assembly will have to take an Aids test. The results will not be publicised.

It is not clear what the state government intends to do with the information it gathers.

Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy was first to be tested before the cameras on Monday.

"All MLAs [members of the legislative assembly] should get tested and become inspirations for other people in the state," he told reporters.

Activists say one of the major problems in India's battle against HIV/Aids is lack of awareness about the disease and stigma associated with it.

Officials in Andhra Pradesh hope the publicity campaign featuring politicians will help overcome this.

The proposed mandatory HIV test for couples planning to marry is part of measures aimed at stemming the rise in infections in Andhra Pradesh.

Health Minister Rosaiah said: "We are in the process of passing legislation which makes it compulsory for boys and girls to get an HIV test done before marriage."

Earlier in December he said most opposition parties in the state backed the proposal.

Details of the legislation and how it would be enforced are not clear.

There are also concerns that compulsory testing might lead to people buying fake test certificates which would hide the true extent of the spread of the virus.

It is estimated that between 500,000 and a million people are infected with HIV in the 78-million-strong population of Andhra Pradesh.

That puts the state second, behind Maharashtra which has the highest number of HIV-positive people in India.

Health officials expect that as more people come forward for testing they will gain a clearer picture of how many people are infected in Andhra Pradesh.



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