MPs divided over HIV testing age, pass Bill

13Nov 2019
Felister Peter
The Guardian
MPs divided over HIV testing age, pass Bill

MEMBERS of Parliament were yesterday divided over the age of consent for HIV/Aids self-testing with some suggesting the law to allow testing for children below 15 years.

The lawmakers were concerned that HIV/Aids infections amongst children aged below 15 years are on the rise, which may hamper government efforts in achieving targeted results through the 90-90-90 campaign.

Under the 90-90-90 campaign which aims at ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030, the government wants 90 percent of people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV infections receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of people receiving ARVs attain viral suppression.

They were contributing to debate on a bill,  the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2019 tabled under the Written Laws Miscellaneous Amendment Bill, 2019 which was passed by the House yesterday.

The new law will allow 15 year old children to undergo HIV/Aids testing, but insists the process should be voluntary. It also requires a person assisting another one to undertake HIV self-testing to comply with requirements of confidentiality.

Special Seats MP Suzan Lyimo said there was nothing wrong for 12-year- old children being tested for HIV “since our aim is to ensure all those infected know their status.”

Presenting opinions of the opposition camp, Special Seats legislator Salome Makamba (Shinyanga, Chadema) said since there are laws that recognize a 12-year-child as a person who can engage in sexual intercourse, the passed bill should also allow children of similar age to go for HIV testing.

Tabora Urban legislator, Emmanuel Mwakasaka (CCM) said South Africa changed the age of consent from 18 to 12 years after which the number of new infection has increased to 24.7 percent in 2018 from 12 percent in 2012 when self-testing was restricted to persons aged 18 years and above.

Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu said amendment of the law is part of strategies to push more Tanzanians to go for HIV/Aids as well as achieve the 90-90-90 targets by 2030.

Mwalimu said the 2015/2016 Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS) indicated that infections among children up to 14 years stood at 0.4 percent, with most of them infected by their mothers.

“We have amended the age of consent for HIV self-testing because the latest TDHS mentions 15 years as the age of first sexual engagements,” she said.

Attorney General Prof Adelardus Kilangi said Section 27(3) of the law was amended to increase penalty for the offence of misleading the public regarding the cure, prevention and control of HIV/Aids. It also discourages people from making any such statements without scientific verifications.

Section 47 of the Act enables the court to make an order for compensation to victims who acquired HIV by being intentionally infected by another person, he pointed out.

Health Ministry statistics indicate that new infections among youth aged 15 to 19 are quite high, about 65,000 yearly and out them 80-percet are girls and only 20-percent are boys.

Tanzania has 1.4 million people affected by HIV and the government wants 90-percent of the country’s population to know their status, whereas currently it is only 62 percent who know their status.

It is estimated that over 3000 patients died in sub Saharan Africa on a daily basis due to HIV in 2015. Ten countries in Africa carry 80 per cent of the total HIV burden, namely South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The National Assembly also amended the Animal Diseases Act, Cap.156, the Animal Welfare Act, Cap.154, the Bank of Tanzania Act, Cap.197 and the Government Loans, Guarantees and Grants Act, Cap.134.

The list also includes the Industrial and Consumer Chemicals (Management and Control) Act, Cap.  182, the Mining Act, Cap. 123, the National Leaders’ Funeral Act, Cap.419, 419, the Ports Act, Cap. 166, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Cap. 19 and the Registration and Identification of Persons Act, Cap. 36.

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