Malaysian Couples Encouraged For HIV Tests Before Marriage

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Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Saturday announced that non-Muslim couples will be urged to take voluntary HIV tests before marriage, AFP/ reports.

The statement follows a recent announcement by Najib that pre-marital courses for Muslim couples in the country will include mandatory HIV tests beginning in 2009. Najib said that the measure is part of the government's initiative to reduce the increasing number of married women living with HIV. Najib said, "I think for non-Muslims, we should go on the basis of encouraging them on [a] voluntary basis to subject themselves to be tested and screened for HIV," adding that HIV testing is in the best interest of individuals planning to be married (AFP/, 12/21).

According to the Bernama Daily Malaysian News, Najib said that non-Muslim couples are not required to complete any premarital courses and that legal provisions therefore would be necessary to make HIV testing mandatory before marriage. He added that the government will study whether HIV testing should be made mandatory for non-Muslim couples and plans to collect feedback from the community about the requirement, particularly from non-Muslim couples intending to be married (Bernama Daily Malaysian News, 12/20).


Meanwhile, many non-Muslim religious bodies and other groups are divided on the issue of mandatory HIV testing as part of pre-marital courses, the New Straits Times reports. Datuk Vaithilingam -- president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism -- said that religious leaders initially agreed that the rule should be put in place; however, many now say that they will need additional reasons from authorities because they have developed "mixed feelings," the Straits Times reports. According to Vaithilingam, the biggest concern among religious leaders is the reliability of HIV tests.

He said, "A person may be HIV-positive but a test a week before his marriage may not show this." Irene Fernandez, director of the group Tenaganita, said that she is opposed to mandatory testing because "without proper pre - and post- counseling, the screenings will be disastrous," adding that couples will have a "false sense of security" if they receive HIV tests only before marriage. She said that the government should instead create awareness about HIV screening so that people will voluntarily be tested, in addition to training more HIV/AIDS counselors. Edmund Bon, chair of the Bar Council's Human Rights Council, said that testing should not be made mandatory because it "will not reduce the number of HIV cases in the country, but merely show" who is living with HIV/AIDS. He said expanding access to condoms and promoting their use, as well as increasing awareness, are the best methods of curbing the spread of HIV.

Vaithilingam said that officials have not decided against the rule and that it is "up to the deputy prime minister and the Health Ministry to convince us" to adopt it (New Straits Times, 12/22).

AFP/ on Monday examined how the recent calls for mandatory HIV screening, and the debate over sex and marriage among HIV-positive people, have "triggered an intense debate over how to handle a disease taking hold" in the primarily Muslim country (AFP/, 12/22).

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