JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa dropped plans Thursday to
make AIDS a notifiable disease, fearing that
sufferers could be vulnerable to attack.
The decision reflected concern that AIDS victims could be
ostracized if their status was known in their communities where
the disease carries deep social stigmas and has provoked
violence against those with the disease.
"Because of the climate of fear and prejudice, people could
suffer abuse and serious isolation. People would hesitate to
come and be tested if they thought the notification could be
tied to them," said health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Collinge.
"Notification is not going to be implemented," she said. AIDS
activist Gugu Dlamini was stoned to death on World AIDS Day in
1998 after she declared on television she was HIV-positive.
Countless HIV-positive victims, particularly women and even
children, have faced intimidation and in some cases are driven
from their homes by neighbors who fear that they can catch the
disease by being around people with the disease.
Discrimination against AIDS sufferers is widespread despite
years of public education programs aimed at removing myths
surrounding the virus. The decision was also made to encourage
South Africans to undergo voluntary testing for HIV-AIDS
without fear of their anonymity being compromised.
Notification was originally planned by the health department to
develop a comprehensive database of how the disease, which
already infects more than four million South Africans, was
spreading through the country.
Diseases such as cholera, malaria and anthrax are currently
notifiable in South Africa. Authorities use the information to
better understand patterns of the disease and to plan
contingency plans in the event of an outbreak.
Aids Fights Prejudice
Health officials said that society had been slow in changing
its attitudes and prejudices toward HIV-AIDS and that
procedures to protect patient confidentiality were
Many rights groups had objected to notification on the grounds
that it infringed the rights of privacy and that it would drive
the epidemic further underground.
"Notification is not the issue that will turn the tide of this
epidemic around. What has to change is sexual behavior and for
all South Africans to be encouraged to test for HIV," said
Judi Nwokedi, director of Advocacy Initiative which campaigns
for equitable health care.
Under the original plan health workers would be obliged to
notify health authorities, the patient and also his or her
Many families are reluctant to accept that their loved one is
HIV-positive or has died of the disease, preferring to put
other causes on the death certificate.
The health department would now rely on surveillance projects
to obtain data on the extent of the disease to plan service
delivery and to report statistics back to international
organizations such as the World Health Organization web
AIDS groups forecast that up to seven million South Africans
could be living with HIV within 10 years, making it the biggest
economic threat to the country. Already, around 40 percent of
hospital beds are filled with patients who are HIV-positive.