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Keywords:

  • mandatory testing;
  • HIV/AIDS;
  • sub-Saharan Africa;
  • transmission;
  • newborn;
  • gender;
  • rights

ABSTRACT

Despite recent advances in ways to prevent transmission of HIV from a mother to her child during pregnancy, infants continue to be born and become infected with HIV, particularly in southern Africa where HIV prevalence is the highest in the world. In this region, emphasis has shifted from voluntary HIV counselling and testing to routine testing of women during pregnancy. There have also been proposals for mandatory testing. Could mandatory testing ever be an option, even in high-prevalence settings? Many previous examinations of mandatory testing have dealt with it in the context of low HIV prevalence and a well-resourced health care system. In this discussion, different assumptions are made. Within this context, where mandatory testing may be a strategy of last resort, the objections to it are reviewed. Special attention is paid in the discussion to the entrenched vulnerability of women in much of southern Africa and how this contributes to both HIV prevalence and ongoing challenges for preventing HIV transmission during pregnancy. While mandatory testing is ethically plausible, particularly when coupled with guaranteed access to treatment and care, the discussion argues that the moment to employ this strategy has not yet come. Many barriers remain for pregnant women in terms of access to testing, treatment and care, most acutely in the southern African setting, despite the presence of national and international human rights instruments aimed at empowering women and removing such barriers. While this situation persists, mandatory HIV testing during pregnancy cannot be justified.