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Clinton calls for
mandatory HIV testing

Clinton calls for
mandatory HIV testing

Former president 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 testing.

"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.

Clinton, whose 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 million tests.

"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.

He added 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)

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