SOUTH AFRICA: HIV School Testing Controversy

South Africa is preparing to take HIV testing into the classroom as part of its national voluntary HIV testing and counselling (VCT) campaign, but testing kids is controversial and implementing the programme is fraught with challenges – just ask those already doing it.

Government departments, together with the South African National AIDS Council, are holding nationwide consultative meetings with members of the education, children’s rights and HIV sectors to formulate a national policy for school-based HIV testing, as well as guidelines and recommendations for the country’s nine provinces.

Activists from the Durban-based Yezingane Network of children’s organizations met with national Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and identified consent and confidentiality as two of the main challenges.

however some student and teacher unions are opposed to school-based testing, arguing that children as young as 12 years old may not be psychologically or emotionally prepared to deal with an HIV-positive diagnosis.

Launched in April 2010, South Africa’s VCT campaign is seeking to test 15 million South Africans by April 2011. A schools-based component was included from the outset, but public debate did not erupt until the Department of Health (DoH) announced it had pushed back the February 2011 start date for student testing to allow it and the Ministry of Basic Education to formulate a child-sensitive VCT strategy.

About 3 percent of South African children 18 years and younger are HIV-positive, according to a 2010 report by South African research body, the Human Sciences Research Council.

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