For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) conducted a population-based study among 1,268 respondents in Botswana to better understand gender-specific barriers to HIV prevention, testing and treatment. One aspect of the study, discussed in a journal article released today in PLOS Medicine, examines experiences with HIV testing and attitudes towards routine testing 11 months after the introduction of the policy of routine testing in Botswana. Routine testing in Botswana is a provider-initiated approach where nearly all patients who visit hospitals or clinics are supposed to be tested for HIV unless they explicitly refuse the test. PHR researchers found that 54% of respondents had heard of routine testing prior to the study. After a brief explanation of the policy, most participants (81%) reported being extremely or very much in favor of routine testing.
The majority of respondents believed that this policy would decrease barriers to testing (89%), HIV-related stigma (60%) and violence against women (55%), and would increase access to antiretroviral treatment (93%). At the same time, participants expressed concerns regarding potential adverse consequences associated with this policy. Forty-three percent of participants believed that routine testing would lead people to avoid going to the doctor for fear of testing and 14% believed that this policy could increase gender-based violence related to testing. While experiences with HIV testing, through both voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and routine testing programs, were positive overall, notably, 68% of those surveyed who had tested for HIV felt that they could not refuse the test.
The evidence of potential widespread support for routine testing found in the PHR study holds significant promise for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Botswana and similar country contexts. As routine testing is adopted, however, it is essential that measures be implemented to assure true informed consent and human rights safeguards, including protection from HIV-related discrimination and partner violence related to testing. "While there is no question that there needs to be a significant scale up of HIV testing and treatment, the findings of this study underscore the importance of monitoring HIV testing practices to maximize protection of human rights," said Sheri Weiser, MD, MPH, lead author of the article and a consultant to PHR.
Other components of the PHR study in Botswana will be discussed at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada in August.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.