Now Daily Investigation
Health service providers in Zimbabwe are at the centre of a storm after it emerged that many are carrying out HIV/AIDS tests on patients without their knowledge or authority.
Investigations by Now Daily confirmed that a large number of health workers are secretly carrying out the tests for personal gain and selling the results to third parties such as employers, spouses, family members, pastors and lovers of the victims in violation of the law. Others are using the results to blackmail the patients and pocketing huge amounts of money, it emerged.
A nurse at Chitungwiza’s private South Med hospital confirmed that he had secretly tested a local woman for AIDS without her knowledge and did not inform her that she had tested positive. The nurse then passed the information to an undercover reporter from Now Daily, who posed as a church official.
“We call it the supermarket approach, where a patient comes to be treated for one thing but can also be tested for other ailments that may be contributing to the illness,” said Mafudze after being confronted over the illegal test.
However, international guidelines developed by the United Nations and adopted by Zimbabwe state that the provider initiated testing and counselling (PITC) should be done with the full knowledge of the patient or ‘client’, who must be informed of the results of the test, which must remain confidential. Disclosing someone’s disease status without their permission or knowledge is illegal in terms of the Zimbabwean constitution.
Interviewed by Now Daily, the woman in question, who was employed as an administrator by an international non-governmental organization professed ignorance of the test. Her husband, a cross-border trader also said he was not aware of the test.
“I don’t even want to be tested myself because I go out with many women. What would I do if I tested positive? I could kill myself,” said the husband.
Mafudze tested the woman out of spite as she was a leader at a church he attended and was using the information to discredit her as he was gunning for her position as a prayer leader, it emerged. The woman, who was regularly ill with complications arising from AIDS, was apparently prescribed anti-viral medication (ARVs) without her knowledge.
Now Daily investigations confirmed that secret testing was rampant, especially in mining communities, where health care workers passed the information to management without the employees knowing. A health worker at a large mine on the Great Dyke said new recruits and employees targeted for promotion or further training were routinely tested for HIV.
“The reason why we carry out the tests is to protect the company from losses. It has happened that some people are employed, only to fall sick immediately afterwards and claim substantial benefits from the company. We’ve also had the experience of sending people to college for specialist training, only to lose them to disease as soon as they graduate or even while they are still being trained. The company is obliged by labour laws to give substantial compensation to such workers, which is not sustainable,” said an executive.
Zimbabwe adopted PITC as part of the national AIDS strategic plan, Zinasp II 2011-15, whose results are now being assessed. The National AIDS Council claims the policy was a success.
“The provider initiated testing and counselling (PITC) services will be strengthened and scaled up,” says the Zinasp II document. “By 2010, about 85% of people had tested and received results. HIV testing and counselling sites offering “Provider Initiated Testing and Counselling” (PITC), increased from 35% in 2006 to 64% in 2010.”
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