Bill Clinton on Tuesday called for mandatory HIV
antibody testing in countries with high infection rates and
the means to provide lifesaving drugs.
When the AIDS
epidemic began two decades ago, mandatory testing was
frowned upon because of the stigma attached to the deadly
illness and the lack of treatment for those infected.
But Clinton said countries where there is no
discrimination against people with the illness and where
anti-HIV drugs are available should now consider universal
"I think there
needs to be a total rethinking of this testing
position in the AIDS community and a real push for this,"
Clinton told journalists during a briefing in London.
More than 40
million people worldwide are estimated to be living with
HIV, but many do not know they are infected.
"Now we can save
people's lives, and we can reduce the stigma. There is
no way we are going to reduce the spread of this epidemic
without more testing because 90% of the people who are
HIV-positive don't know it," Clinton added.
foundation has been working to bring quality medical care
and cheaper drugs to patients in poor countries, said this
year Lesotho would become the first country to conduct
universal HIV antibody testing.
He said he
regarded it as a test case to see whether rapid tests,
costing 49 cents to 65 cents each, and drugs can
reduce the 27% infection rate in the southern African
country. A budget of $100 million could pay for 200
"The whole idea
is to treat this as a public health problem, not as
some source of shame or disgrace and to keep as many people
alive as possible," he explained.
The first aim is
to stop infections, and the second is to save the lives
of those who are infected. "I would be for whatever
accomplishes those objectives," Clinton said.
that the question is not whether a country is rich or
poor, but whether its infection rate is critical. When
the level of infection reaches a critical point, it
imperils the public health structure and social
stability, making it more difficult to bring rates down.
Since leaving the
White House, Clinton has devoted much of his attention
to getting anti-HIV drugs to poor countries at the cheapest
possible prices through the Clinton Foundation
HIV/AIDS Initiative. It is working with 22 countries
in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia to provide anti-HIV
drugs to more than a quarter of a million patients through
special drug deals. (Reuters)