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Goa encourages voluntary HIV testing
Sandesh Prabhudesai in Panjim
Goa plans to have a statewide referendum on making an HIV test mandatory before marriage.
Towards this end, a drive to encourage voluntary testing begins on Tuesday with Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and Health Minister Dr Suresh Amonkar being the first ones to undergo the test.
The demand for making this test compulsory should come from the people, Amonkar said. "Only then will we consider making it into a law," he added.
Health Secretary Rina Ray mooted the idea of a public referendum to decide the issue though the suggestion has been opposed even at the national level on the grounds that it would amount to violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
However, "every woman has a right to know whether her would-be husband is HIV negative," Ray insists.
While the debate rages, the state is experimenting with a fortnight-long voluntary test drive, besides distributing booklets on sex education as well as condoms through panchayats.
All the health centres spread throughout health-conscious Goa would participate in this initiative and even distribute condoms. "Counselling before as well as after the test would be stressed upon," Ray said.
As the largest chunk of HIV-infected persons are found to be in the age group of 15 to 24 years, the state has also relaxed the provision of seeking consent of parents for HIV tests.
"We want to remove the stigma associated with such tests," Amonkar said.
Though the number of HIV-positive persons does not exceed one per cent of the national average, the tourist state is taking no chance since the figure works out to over 10,000 for a tiny state of 1.3 million people.
"The credit for such a low rate of HIV cases obviously goes to the high literacy level and a well-knit health infrastructure. But we have no capacity to absorb a calamity if it breaks out," Ray explained. Her ultimate dream is to make Goa an HIV negative state.
As the highest number of HIV-positive cases are reported in the port town of Vasco, the state government is considering rehabilitating the sex workers in the town by formulating a special social security scheme and persuading them to leave the profession.
More reports from Goa