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Testing a bad idea

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 00:26 IST

Measuring the socio-economic burden of any disease on an economy is devilishly difficult. The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has done just that. In its study of how the HIV virus affects the Indian economy, the Council has projected that household incomes could fall by at least 10 per cent, going by current disease prevalence levels. It also stated that unemployment among the HIV-infected increased between the time they were tested positive and were surveyed from 3.7 per cent to almost 10 per cent. In this rather gloomy scenario, it is heartening to see that industry and policy groups are engaged in scientifically mapping the impact of Aids and HIV and developing prevention-care-treatment schemes to tackle the disease where taboos and social ostracisation add to the woes of the infected.

With this as a backdrop, the Andhra Pradesh government’s announcement of its plans to introduce a pre-nuptial HIV test is jarring. More than anything else, it shows up panic and insensitivity at the governmental level. Many questions have been left unanswered. For instance, will the State soon decide whether couples should receive a ‘fit-to-marry’ certificate based on the HIV test? The proposal’s alleged purpose — to prevent the virus from being passed on to babies — does not add up to anything. For one, treatment already exists to minimise the risk of a foetus being infected by the HIV virus from a carrier mother. For another, people will be willing to take the test only if they are convinced about subsequent benefits.

What lies in store for a person tested HIV positive? One has a niggling feeling that he or she will be at the receiving end of societal prejudices. The state’s Health Minister, K Rosiah’s view that a pre-marriage HIV test will be a “compulsory tough measure” since “condoms are not very popular” should make the Centre and funding bodies sit up. If state health ministers can indirectly give their thumbs down to the necessity of protected sex, what chance does Aids awareness programmes have with the general public?