Mandatory HIV Testing of Prisoners would Violate their Human Rights…MBs urged to give priority to treatment and prevention

Press Release

26 January 2006

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said today that respect for human rights is essential for a successful response to HIV/AIDS. The organization urged the People's Assembly (PA) to give priority to providing healthcare services to prisoners living with HIV/AIDS rather violating their rights by subjecting them to mandatory testing and isolation.

On 23 January 2006, a website affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), announced that MB parliamentarian and deputy chair of the PA's Health Committee Akram Al-Sha'ir submitted an urgent statement addressed to the Ministers of Health and Interior that warned against "the spread of AIDS in prisons" after the reported death of an HIV-positive inmate at the General Port Said Prison. Excerpts of the statement published on the website indicated that the inmate had entered prison on 14 May 2004 and died on 18 January 2006 and that the death resulted from AIDS-related complications. The statement reportedly accused the prison administration of "grave negligence" by failing to subject the inmate to a mandatory HIV test before his admission to prison, and inquired on steps that were taken by the Ministry of Interior to isolate the inmate and protect other prisoners.

The EIPR said that prison authorities have a legal obligation to provide access to adequate healthcare services and treatment to HIV-positive prisoners. The authorities also must follow universally accepted procedures of prevention, including the provision of information and methods of prevention as well as voluntary and confidential counseling and testing services, the protection of all prisoners from physical and sexual violence, and the possibility of early release for prisoners who are late-stage AIDS patients.

"The death of the Port Said inmate would have been avoidable had he received adequate treatment and healthcare services in prison," said Dr. Ragia  El-Gerzawy, Health and Human Rights Program Officer of the EIPR. "Rather than demanding mandatory testing and isolation of HIV-positive inmates, Members of parliament should fight the stigma and abuses that hinder an effective response to HIV/AIDS both inside and outside of prisons."
Most countries that subjected prisoners living with HIV/AIDS to mandatory testing and isolation in the 1980s have abandoned the practice not only because of its high cost, but also due to the absence of any public health justifications for the practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that governments end mandatory testing and/or arbitrary isolation of people living with HIV/AID, including those deprived of their liberty.