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Faced With AIDS Crisis, Indian State Pushes for Mandatory HIV Screening

November 13, 2002

The southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is seeking tough new laws requiring mandatory pre-marriage HIV screening for couples, the health minister said Wednesday.

"Several women's groups have approached us and demanded we toughen the laws to protect scores of innocent young women who are being married off to men who hide the fact that they are carrying the AIDS virus," local Health Minister Kodela Sivaprasad Rao said. Rao said the government heeded the concerns expressed by the women's groups and was hurrying to introduce a bill to make HIV screening mandatory in Andhra Pradesh.

Citizen's groups opposing the measure call the proposed legislation impractical and "a serious violation" of a citizen's fundamental rights. "At certain times of the year, 300 to 500 marriages take place in a day in this state. The state health machinery is just not equipped to handle so many HIV tests," said Karl Sequiera, executive trustee of the Freedom Foundation. "Suicide rates could shoot up with the Health Department lacking necessary experts to counsel people who may test positive for HIV," added Sequiera, whose foundation runs a 30-bed facility for poor HIV-infected patients. Rao countered, however, that "infecting an unsuspecting young woman with the deadly AIDS virus was also a violation of her human rights."

Andhra Pradesh is also taking steps to fight discrimination against AIDS patients in state-run hospitals, the health minister said. "The medical profession must shed its prejudices against AIDS victims and help them," Rao said, citing rampant discrimination against AIDS patients throughout the state.

An estimated 400,000 people -- two percent of the adult population in Andhra Pradesh -- are believed to be HIV-infected. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who on Monday announced a $100 million grant to fight HIV/AIDS in India, said, "The good news is that a progressive state like Andhra Pradesh has the resources and will to face the AIDS challenge."

Back to other CDC news for November 13, 2002

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Adapted from:
Agence France Presse
11.13.02; Savitri Choudhury

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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