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If it is asked that what should be the pre-requisites of getting qualified for a graduation degree the answer is likely to be the minimum qualification marks in the educational institution they are in. Along with that some people would like to add qualities like hard work, sincerity and discipline. It is really hard to think of a mandatory HIV testing as a requirement to become a graduate. But in some cases this demand has been made by the Universities to the students to prove that they are not HIV positive before getting graduated (Lamb, 2009).
HIV or the “Human Immunodeficiency Virus” (Kaldor, 2007), the cause of AIDS or “Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome” (Kaldor, 2007)is no doubt a dreaded name and its spread should be stopped with agility. However, subjecting students to a mandatory screening as a condition to become graduates appears rather a negative approach than a positive one. There is no visible link between the positive or negative HIV status of a student with becoming a graduate. Whether a student is HIV positive or not has nothing to do with the capacity of a student to be able to complete the graduation successfully. Therefore, this essay holds a strong opposition against the statement “With adequate policies maintaining the privacy of medical information, HIV testing of high school seniors should be a mandatory requirement for graduation” (Wools-Kaloustian, 2010).
Prominent example of the demand
Though surprising, the statement against which this essay holds opinion is the proof itself of this strange requirement of being a graduate. Some universities are of the opinion that the senior high school students need to undergo a mandatory test of their HIV status if they want to become graduates. The reasons they show behind this demand are varied (Lamb, 2009).
The example of such a strange requirement is the Covenant University of Nigeria. Covenant University is considered to be the best private University in Nigeria. There had been strong voices against the Vice Chancellor Bishop Oyedepo raised by several NGOs dealing with AIDS because of the firm stand of the university on the policy to make students go through mandatory HIV screening as a pre requisite of graduation. The website, www.nigeriahealthwatch.com, made a mention on August 7, 2007 of the stand of the Vice Chancellor Bishop Oyedepo on this policy. And, surprisingly enough, the Vice Chancellor was quoted with a supporting voice in one of the most respected news dailies of Nigeria, Thisday Newspapers which had defended the views of Bishop Oyedepo (Nigeria Health watch, 2007).
If a renowned educational institution like the Covenant University had thought of a policy of mandatory HIV screening of students to become graduate it will not be unexpected to give rise to a doubt on the understanding we have about HIV and AIDS. The environment of Covenant University is considered to be favorable for achievements and free of effects of any unfavorable activities for education. Such an educational institution of high quality is believed to be governed by enlightened people. Still if a policy like mandatory HIV screening of students is formulated by the governing body of the University it is the indication of a serious lack of proper understanding of HIV/AIDS and the rights of people affected by HIV (Kaldor, 2007).
Reasons for forcing students to go for mandatory HIV screening
The Covenant University Vice Chancellor has stated some reasons for the mandatory HIV screening of graduation aspirants. According to Nigeria health watch (2007), Bishop Oyedepo describes the policy as an effort to “inculcate good morals, discipline and leadership qualities” (Nigeria Health watch, 2007) among the students wanting to become graduates. But anybody with a proper understanding of HIV infection and the consequences of mandatory screening for the presence of the virus would not agree with these objectives. Let us take the reasons stated by the Vice Chancellor into account one by one and analyze whether they are worth stating as reasons to impose such a law on the students.
- Morality – HIV infection can indeed take place through unprotected sexual activities or shared needle uses. If restrain from such activities are taken as the parameters of good moral characters then it should be remembered that HIV can spread from blood transfusion also which is not supposed to be an immoral activity. And screening cannot detect the virus if tested within the window period. So the criterion of morality does not fit as a reason (Lamb, 2009).
- Discipline – A disciplined life is a must for anybody. But testing positive for HIV is not a proof of an undisciplined life. And, on the opposite side a negative result of HIV screening can never prove that a person is a disciplined one. This criterion also is not feasible to impose a mandatory HIV screening on the students (Kaldor, 2007).
- Leadership Qualities – Leadership qualities do not lie only on the negative test result of a mandatory HIV test of a student. On the contrary if a student shines in life despite being unfortunately being exposed to an infection HIV it would become an exceptional example for fellow students. There is very little relationship of HIV infection with leadership qualities.
It is now clear that no logic can prove the usefulness of a mandatory HIV screening for the students seeking graduation. Apart from that it will be logical to ask whether the University staffs and the Vice Chancellor himself would agree to prove that they have all those qualities they are looking for in the students. If these qualities are proved by mandatory HIV screening then the governing body itself should go for such a test every year along with the students to set up examples of morality, discipline and leadership qualities (Wools-Kaloustian, 2010).
Other objections with the mandatory HIV screening
A compulsory HIV screening of students is a violation of human rights. Along with that it is ineffective due to certain reasons.
- A compulsory HIV screening can create confusion about the status of HIV in the student by showing a false negative results if tested within the window period which is the time taken by the virus to manifest itself after the infection.
- Mandatory HIV screening can create fear, sense of insecurity and confusion among the students. This is because of the conception that if they are tested positive then they would face severe stigma and discrimination. Students may stay away from graduating because of the fear of their HIV status getting public through a mandatory HIV testing.
- Students testing positive in the test will go through a devastated mental state which might lead them to suicidal tendencies as a consequence. They would retract from the world and would resist taking any kind of medical assistance in any emergency also. Because the stigma of being HIV infected still haunts people, a student whose positive HIV status has by chance become known to somebody else will face social alienation and discrimination.
- Though it is stated that the medical details would be dealt such that the privacy is not hampered the need of pre and post test counseling would always be a vital point. Any screening done without a proper counseling will always do harm rather than good (Lamb, 2009).
- The result of a test might be false negative. But the student might be in the window period. The result would then tremendously misguide the student giving him an undue feeling of safety and he or she might continue the risky behaviors and might infect others as well.
The points are enough to prove that a mandatory HIV screening is not a proper weapon of stopping HIV from spreading. It would on the contrary cause potential harms to innocent students who will hesitate to try for being a graduate (Wools-Kaloustian, 2010).
According to the website www.unaids.org, the political declaration of 2006 on HIV has mentioned some basic rights for people who have chances of contracting HIV. These include two very important rights – firstly, the rights to privacy that enable someone to stay protected against mandatory testing and keeping the status private and secondly, the rights to education that enables someone with HIV infection to have the right over getting education (UNAIDS, 2006). So, forcing students to go through mandatory HIV screening and denying the rights to education if positive is a violation of human rights. This kind of rules can never do any good to the society and would stop many potential students to educate themselves to a higher degree. Therefore the policies making a HIV screening mandatory for graduation should never be materialized as a rule in the universities.
Kaldor, J. (2007). HIV/AIDS: HIV-positive people getting heavier. Science News, 172(17), 260-270.
Lamb, D. (2009). HIV Instruction and Selected HIV-Risk Behaviors among High School Students. Journal of School Health, 62(10), 481-482.
Nigeria Health Watch. (2007). Still on Covenant Univerity’s compulsory HIV testing. Web.
UNAIDS. (2006). Human rights and HIV. Web.
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Wools-Kaloustian, K. (2010). Retention of HIV-infected and HIV-exposed children in a comprehensive HIV clinical care programme in Western Kenya. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 15(7), 833-841.