Harare clinics force HIV/AIDS tests for pregnant women

In a move that is likely to raise the ire of HIV/AIDS activists, maternity clinics in the city are conducting compulsory HIV/AIDS tests on pregnant women before they can register for delivery The Zimbabwean can exclusively reveal.

Scores of pregnant women in the high-density suburb of Glen-Norah told this newspaper that they were being asked to bring their spouses if they wanted to register to deliver their babies.

“They say I should bring my husband for both of us to be tested for HIV/AIDS. But this should be a voluntary exercise. My husband does not want to be tested for reasons best known to him and I respect that.

“So what am I supposed to do? Delivering at home means I could die. There are a lot of risks, not least of which is AIDS itself,” said Mary Chakanyuka, an expecting mother.

Women Affairs Gender and Community Development deputy minister Jessie Majome expressed shock and surprise.

“This is degrading, inhumane, against both the law and government policy. Surely this is out of sync with reality when we are trying to reduce maternal and infant mortality. It shows some people still treat women as either sub-humans or minors. We condemn this in the strongest terms possible,” Majome said.

Women already find difficulties in getting access to medication and asking them to bring their spouses would compound their problem, she added.

“This behavior also creates more problems in the home and leaves women at the mercy of men and disease,” said the deputy minister.

Another expectant mother, Christine Chieza, also of Glen-Norah, confirmed she had visited a local clinic known as kwaBacaster Clinic where she was asked to bring her husband for testing before she could register.

“They asked me to bring my husband but how am I supposed to convince him to come? He is likely to think I have been sleeping around and now am not sure of my status because he does not even want to use condoms saying they are for loose characters,” said Mai Chieza.

She said even when they agree to register one without their husband they are still asked to take the test without a choice.

The Zimbabwean visited the clinic adjacent ST Peter’s Kubatana in Glen-Norah where workers confirmed they had turned away “a few” people so they could bring their spouses for testing.

“It’s true we urge them to bring their husbands and if they cannot they will still be allowed to register later,” said a worker.

Ministry of Health National TB Programme manager, Dr Charles Sandy, in response to written questions on the issue said government had no compulsory HIV/AIDS testing but urged everyone to know their status especially those expecting.

“We have no such policy and if it’s happening we will investigate. But it’s against policy, that I can tell you,” he said.

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