Panafrican News Agency

NGO seeks innovative approach for political leadership in HIV and health law in Africa

Kigali, Rwanda (PANA) -  While HIV status and reporting requirements raise legal issues related to patient confidentiality, one member of a civil society organisation said here on Friday that political leadership in Africa still needs to connect theory with real context.

Cindi Kelemi, Executive Director of 'Bonela', a non-governmental organization in Botswana observed that legal protection of patient privacy and confidentiality depend on whether or not public health concerns outweigh the interest in preserving the doctor-patient privilege.

Kelemi was speaking at the ongoing  International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in  Kigali.

"Balancing these interests is a particular challenge when it comes to privacy concerns associated with HIV status," she said.

Kelemi's NGO is committed to integrating an ethical, legal and human rights approach in   Botswana’s health system.

Currently,  the existing main HIV reporting systems in Africa are name-based reporting, code-based reporting, and name-to-code-based reporting, according to health experts.

In code-based reporting, coded identifiers are substituted for names. Name-to-code-based reporting means that cases were initially reported by name, but were converted to code after public health follow-up and collection of epidemiologic data.

During her intervention, Kelemi noted that politics is the main driver for action as well as inaction.

"But whatever it takes, political leadership needs to connect theory with a real context. We have to speak truth to power ... Adolescent girls and young women are still getting infected, too many people are still dying,” she said.

While health experts recognize and acknowledge communities and place them at the centre of the national response to HIV, many argue that code-based reporting systems are not as effective as name-based systems and have prevented physicians and public health officials from contacting those who have had sexual contact or shared needles with HIV-positive individuals.

They said partner notification is critical so that individuals know they are at risk, receive HIV counselling and testing, and get appropriate medical care.

Official statistics show that out of the 34 million HIV-positive people worldwide, 69% live in sub-Saharan Africa. 

According to the UNAIDS, there are roughly 23.8 million infected persons in Africa, and  91% of the world's HIV-positive children live in Africa.

-0- PANA TWA/AR 6Dec2019