HIV: DA’s Bloom ruffles feathers
A senior DA politician has become the latest member of his party to become embroiled in a battle with medical experts and NGOs after questioning why people in SA should not be tested for HIV/ Aids without their consent.
Jack Bloom, the DA’s spokesman for health in Gauteng, said the government’s approach to HIV testing – which involved getting people’s consent and testing with their knowledge – had allowed people’s rights to privacy to take precedence over the right to life.
He also suggested that the only way to stop the spread of the HI virus was to encourage people to be faithful to their partners, rather than focusing on condom use.
The DA’s statements on, and apparent attitudes, to HIV/ Aids have sparked several controversies in recent weeks.
Party leader Helen Zille was roundly slammed by legal experts and clinicians for suggesting that men who have multiple sexual partners and refuse to use condoms be charged with attempted murder.
Then, in her capacity as Western Cape Premier, Zille unveiled a competition with cash prizes for people who visited testing centres and were tested for HIV/Aids during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.
This earned her huge criticism, as well as a great deal of praise, but it was her comments on the “Aids Gestapo” – organisations working on HIV/Aids matters – that really infuriated experts.
Now Bloom is in the firing line.
While he did not openly call for a change in testing policy, this week Bloom repeatedly questioned why HIV/Aids was treated differently from other diseases in that testing for it required a patient’s consent.
“We started off on the wrong foot with Aids right from the start because of ‘progressives’ who decided that, unlike any other diseases, informed consent was needed before diagnostic testing,” he said. “So if a doctor suspected that a patient had HIV, he couldn’t go ahead and test as he would do for any other life-threatening disease.”
His comments have drawn the ire of health experts and activists, although many prominent organisations and clinicians, including the Treatment Action Campaign, have refused to comment, saying his remarks are not worth their time.
On Tuesday Bloom downplayed his comments on informed consent in testing, but did not retract them or offer more details on his attitude.
Instead, he took aim at the government’s “condomise” message, saying that although Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was encouraging people to be faithful, this message was being overpowered by the department’s focus on condoms.
“First, unless it is to prevent pregnancy, condoms inevitably indicate distrust that one partner is not faithful. Second, condoms can give a false sense of security and encourage more partners, and they are often used inconsistently, particularly when alcohol is involved.”
He said he was not discouraging condom use, but that more emphasis should be placed on faithfulness.
Mark Heywood, the director of Section 27, formerly the Aids Law Project, said Bloom’s remarks were irresponsible and unfortunate.
Bloom’s statement “reveals his ignorance on fundamental issues around HIV. He talks about HIV testing being treated differently from other diseases, but what he doesn’t seem to realise is that HIV/Aids is a very profound disease that is life-changing, hence it’s important that it’s done differently to others. Proper consent for HIV testing is therefore very important…”
Dean Peacock, executive director of the Sonke Gender and Justice Network, said Bloom
“is attempting to portray himself as a health expert, which he is not. He is also being ignorant of reality… To moralise the issue of sexual choices is just ignorant. You can’t assume that people are involved in long-term relationships, because many people aren’t”.
“You can’t preach to people on how to make their sexual choices … it is their prerog-ative. All we need do in this country is to ensure that people are having safe sex and that they have access to resources such as condoms to protect themselves from infection.”
Heywood also criticised Bloom for suggesting more money should be used to build hospitals, schools and roads instead of being spent on HIV.
“If we don’t (spend) money on the treatment of HIV … our hospitals will be overflowing. You can’t just push the issue of HIV (aside) and invest all the money on roads and building schools. Who will go to those schools if people are dying?
“You can’t treat HIV as a stand-alone issue,” he said.