By Kombe Mataka
Mon 13 Jan. 2014, 14:00 CAT
COMMENT - Pregnant women have a tendency to test false positive on a single P24 ELISA. Another reason to be sceptical about HIV testing in surveys. - MrK
THE Planned Parenthood Association (PPAZ) of Zambia says public health practitioners must not force, but encourage pregnant women and their partners to test for HIV during antenatal.
PPAZ executive director, Edford Mutuma, said in an interview that health practioners that attend to pregnant women must exhibit professionalism in implementing the national policy that seeks to protect newly-born children from being infected by their HIV positive mothers through ensuring that their mothers are tested for the virus before they give birth.
"We have a mandate as a country to reduce to zero the transmission of new HIV infections. That means we are not supposed to have children being born with HIV, and they should not have exposure to HIV. The health providers are given mandate to give to the patient the best of care which is available which includes HIV testing and screening."
Mutuma said the testing of mothers and their partners for HIV was not mandatory.
"If you look at the option 'B plus HIV', it's not mandatory, it's opt-out, but it's the responsibility of a health provider to educate a woman and the partner about HIV and the need to prevent HIV infection from mother to child," he said.
"It has no legal backing, but it's a policy direction. The policy says it's an opt-out but the health of both the mother and the child has to be put into consideration."
Mutuma said testing was important, but that it must be done using laid down guidelines and procedures.
"I think we need to encourage the medical practitioners to engage mothers at every stage of antenatal on the need for them to be tested. We, however, agree that forcing people to test is illegal, just like any other medical procedures, even blood transfusion. As professionals, we don't force, but we encourage people about the benefits. So, this is where maybe we should call for professionalism in handling of such cases," Mutuma said.
"We know that most health centres are under-staffed; in fact, what we encourage is trained counsellors to help with the actual service providers, where the psychosocial counsellors handle the part of counselling and testing is provided by professionals."
On Saturday, during Manzi Valley Programme on Radio 4, Dr Francis Manda said it was illegal and wrong to subject the partners of pregnant women to forced HIV testing.
He said even expecting women were not supposed to be forced to be tested for HIV during their periods of antenatal.