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Clinton calls for mandatory AIDS testing

Former President Bill Clinton called for mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS in countries with high infection rates and the means to provide lifesaving drugs.
/ Source: Reuters

Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday called for mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS 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 on because of the stigma attached to the deadly illness and the lack of treatment for those infected.

But Clinton said countries where there was no discrimination against people with the illness and where anti-AIDS drugs were 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/AIDS 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 percent of the people who are HIV positive don't know it," he added.

Clinton, whose foundation has been working to bring quality medical care and cheaper drugs to sufferers in poor countries, said this year Lesotho would become the first country to do universal testing.

He said he regarded it as a test case to see whether rapid tests, costing 49-65 cents each, and drugs can reduce the 27 percent 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.

Stopping infections, saving lives
The first aim is to stop infections and the second to save the lives of those who are infected.

"I would be for whatever accomplishes those objectives," Clinton said.

He added the question was not whether a country was rich or poor but its infection rate. When the level of infection reached a critical point it imperiled 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-AIDS 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-AIDS drugs to more than a quarter of a million patients through special drug deals.

"I made up my mind that I would not spend the rest of my life wishing I was still president," he said when asked about his his post-presidency projects.

"Once you let it go, you have got to let it go."