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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
SA rape suspects to take HIV test
Aids patient
More than 4m South Africans are thought to be HIV positive
The South African Government has given its initial approval to a draft bill that would introduce mandatory HIV testing for rape suspects.

South Africa has the highest number of people with HIV or Aids in the world, with one in nine people carrying the virus.

Rape is also rife in the country, where one girl in four faces the prospect of being raped before she reaches 16, according to a child support group.

The draft bill is another sign of the Government's new approach to HIV/Aids.

In the past President Thabo Mbeki's widely publicised scepticisms about many of the medical assumptions about HIV and Aids have given rise to much comment around the world.

'Willingness'

The Treatment Action Group (Tac), which in July already forced the government to pay for drugs to help HIV-positive women protect their children during birth, is behind the government's latest move.

"These are difficult negotiations, but there seems to be a new willingness from the government's side," the head of Tac, Zachie Achmat, told Reuters.

South Africa currently makes no provision for HIV testing despite the clear danger to its numerous rape victims from the high prevalence of HIV in the population.

South African child
Some estimates say up to 7m South Africans may die of Aids by 2010

Mr Achmat said that forcing suspected rapists to undergo the test would help their victims decide whether to seek treatment against the disease.

"Many women would want to know whether the person who had raped them had HIV," he said.

He said that according to the proposal, testing should be mandatory only if a suspect is arrested within 72 hours of a rape because after that, it makes no difference, it is too late.

The BBC's Carolyn Dempster in Johannesburg says that even if the draft law is adopted, it is unlikely to make much difference in practical terms as suspected rapists are rarely apprehended within 72 hours of their crime.

Inmates and HIV

She adds that South Africa's prisoners themselves are very much at risk of being infected by HIV.

Pollsmoor prison, South Africa

Prison deaths soared 500% between 1995 and 2001, and prison authorities believe the primary cause is Aids.

A recent independent study estimated that 41% of the current prison population is HIV positive.

It could be higher still, but prisoners are not required to take an HIV test, even though they are freely available, because of the immense stigma that Aids still carries.

As a result, those carrying the virus mingle with those prisoners who do not.


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15 Oct 02 | UK
14 Oct 02 | Correspondent
17 Sep 02 | Africa
10 Jun 02 | Africa
19 Apr 00 | Health
09 Apr 02 | Africa
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