Africa Asia Middle East عربي Français free subscription IRIN Site Map RSS find PlusNews on facebook follow PlusNews on twitter
Global HIV/AIDS news and analysis
Advanced search
 Wednesday 24 November 2010
Weekly reports 
In-Depth reports 
Country profiles 
Fact files 
Most read 
Print report Share |
ZAMBIA: Court case reignites HIV testing debate

Photo: Kristy Siegfried/IRIN
Only 15 percent of Zambians have tested for HIV
LUSAKA, 14 October 2009 (PlusNews) - The human rights record of the Zambian military is being tested in court by two former air force officers who allege they were fired for being HIV positive.

Stanley Kingaipe and Charles Chookole claim they were tested and treated for HIV without their knowledge, and then discharged for being medically unfit a year later. They argue that their dismissal was based on their HIV status and are seeking reinstatement; they are also suing the military for damages to their mental and emotional health.

The air force has denied the claims, saying Kingaipe was discharged because he had cancer, and that Chookole had developed tuberculosis.

The case, which is being tried in the High Court in Livingstone, Zambia's tourism capital, has reignited a debate about the validity of mandatory HIV testing in a country where 14 percent of the population of 11.7 million are HIV positive, but only 15 percent have ever been tested for HIV, according to the Ministry of Health.

Mandatory HIV screening is not legal in Zambia, but in an attempt to broaden the reach of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) the government introduced a policy of provider-initiated testing in 2005, whereby patients visiting public health facilities for any medical condition would be routinely tested for HIV unless they expressly refused.

According to Health Minister Kapembwa Simbao there were still too few people who knew their status; much to the consternation of human rights and AIDS activists, she called for the introduction of compulsory testing in December 2008.

A local newspaper, The Post, reported Simbao as saying: "VCT has reached its peak, and we have to move and ensure that we compel everyone to have an HIV test. The people dying from this disease are innocent young children and very productive young men and women, leaving a country with no productive sector."

Sam Kapembwa, of the Zambia National AIDS Network [ZNAN], an umbrella group for non-governmental HIV/AIDS organisations, disagreed. "We think that military staff should be tested for fitness, and not for HIV," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "To test military personnel for HIV, let alone fire those who are [found to be] positive is unacceptable; it is promoting stigma and discrimination."

The government has denied that the two military men were tested for HIV, but the ex-officers told the court they had blood tests in 2001 that they believed were part of routine check-ups, after which they were put on medication without being told what it was for. A year later a medical board declared them permanently unfit for service.

Both men later voluntarily tested for HIV and claimed it was only then that they discovered the medicines they had been taking were antiretroviral (ARV) drugs used to treat HIV.

The military is the largest civil-service sector in a country where only 500,000 formal jobs exist, but soldiers are also among the groups with the highest risk of HIV.

A senior police officer, who declined to be named, said routine medical check-ups were normal in the police service to ensure fitness, but an HIV test was not included. "Maybe in the recent past the thinking has started changing after seeing so many people dying of AIDS in the Service, and the cost implications to the country," he commented.

Sam Kasankha, a spokesperson for the government's Human Rights Commission, said his organisation was considering the debate on mandatory testing but had yet to come up with a final position.

"Personally, any mandatory testing is against the rights of an individual," he noted. "Every human being is entitled to decide whether they are ready or not to know their [HIV] status; it should not be used as a basis for hiring or firing an individual."


See also: ZAMBIA: Wanted - more people for HIV testing

Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (PLUSNEWS) Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Print report Share |
FREE Subscriptions
Your e-mail address:

Submit your request
 More on Zambia
ZAMBIA: Ephraim Banda, “The third-line drugs we don’t have”
SOUTHERN AFRICA: HIV prevention for youth - it's complicated
SOUTHERN AFRICA: No sex for a month to prevent HIV
HIV/AIDS: Global Fund looks to private sector to fill funding gap
HEALTH: New global plan aims to wipe out TB
 More on HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)
HIV/AIDS: AIDS epidemic changing course
ZAMBIA: Ephraim Banda, “The third-line drugs we don’t have”
UGANDA: Ssenga Bernadette Nabatanzi, "We used to put premature babies in underground holes"
SOUTH AFRICA: HIV prevalence among farm workers hits 40 percent
ZIMBABWE: Drop in condom use following HIV prevention trial
 Most Read 
ZIMBABWE: Drop in condom use following HIV prevention trial
HAITI: HIV-positive people especially vulnerable to cholera
SOUTH AFRICA: HIV prevalence among farm workers hits 40 percent
ZAMBIA: Ephraim Banda, “The third-line drugs we don’t have”
UGANDA: Ssenga Bernadette Nabatanzi, "We used to put premature babies in underground holes"
Back | Home page

Services:  Africa | Asia | Middle East | Film & TV | Photo | Radio | Live news map | E-mail subscription
Feedback · IRIN Terms & Conditions · Really Simple Syndication News Feeds · About PlusNews · Jobs · Donors

Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.