Extended Mandatory HIV Testing Raises Debate in Malaysia

The government of Malaysia has proposed for an expansion of its current ruling on mandatory HIV screening for all married couples. The revised mandatory testing policy would include all Muslim couples who seek to get married. The extension was first suggested by various organizations in the country, including non-Muslim groups, saying that HIV transmission can only be curbed through mandatory testing of all couples.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak has expressed support for extending the policy, claiming that other officials and the public feel strongly about the revision as well. Some Malaysian officials have even suggested rules that would curtail some rights of people with HIV. These suggestions include preventing couples with HIV from having sex or reproducing, as well as putting them in specially-constructed camps or isolated islands in aims to "safeguard" the population.

The debate on the mandatory screening policy has caused a division on opinion in this predominantly-Muslim nation, with opponents saying that the policy have "exposed fear and ignorance within the government" and has "revealed a deep gulf in thinking" in their country.

Proponents of the extension, however, say that the number of HIV cases have decreased by as much as 50% since the government has stepped up their campaign against HIV infection, starting from curbing needle sharing among injection drug users with the help of no-cost needle distribution as well as harm-reduction methadone treatment programs.

However, there is also a 35% increase in the number of HIV cases among married women between 21 and 35, which has said to cause alarm in the government. The report, written by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, also presents that HIV transmission through sex among married women have increased from 5% in 1997 to 16% in 2007. Experts have attributed this increase to husbands who contract the virus through unprotected sex with prostitutes and then transmitting it to their wives.

The Health Ministry of Malaysia reported that the number of new HIV cases have decreased from 6,900 in 2007 to 5,400 in 2008. The office expects these numbers to go down by as much as 3,500 in 2009. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations, there have been 85,000 HIV cases in Malaysia since 1986, and approximately 80,000 people are currently living with the virus.

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