Tanzania to Reform Age of Consent for HIV Testing Legislation

Measure aims to enhance the effectiveness of the battle against the viral scourge, which remains a main cause of death in the United Republic.

African family discussing HIV/Aids prevention in Tanzania, East Africa
Brian Lüdtke

Brian Lüdtke

Owner and Founder, Dodoma.com

5 June 2019

Currently, according to Tanzanian law, only citizens with at least 18 years of age can consent for HIV testing without parental involvement.  In other words, a sexually-active 17-year-old — even one with good reasons for concern about possible infection, or even one that is unknowingly spreading the virus to other people — cannot access testing.  

Of course, the sexual age of consent in Tanzania is 18, so if everyone obeyed the law, there would exist no need for testing prior to the age of 18.  Naturally, both viruses and sexual habits demonstrate minimal or no regard for the law.

Hon. Ummy Mwalimu, Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children, is now recommending to the Parliament in Dodoma to reform this legislation.  If adopted by the National Assembly and signed by President John Magufuli, the bill would allow children aged 15 and above to consent for HIV testing without a parent present.
An orphanage for HIV/AIDS orphans

In support of the change, Minister Mwalimu points to the results of a recent study conducted by the Tanzania Commission for AIDS suggesting that 80% of new HIV cases are in the age group of 15 to 24.  Many people in Tanzania engage in sex from an early age, as evidenced by the relatively high rate of teenage pregnancy.  Within the 15-to-19 age range, 27% of women and girls have either a pregnancy or children. (Dodoma Region has a 39% teenage motherhood rate.  Kilimanjaro Region has the lowest rate, at 6%, while Katavi Region has the country’s highest rate, at 45%.)  

nurse in a hospital in tanzania with HIV/Aids patients
A nurse working on an HIV/AIDS unit in a district hospital, Tanzania

Teenage pregnancy rates in Tanzania are increasing, not decreasing; they’re up 4% since 2010.  This goes against global trends.  In the U.S., for example, the teenage pregnancy rate is less than half of what it was in 1990.  In Mozambique, Tanzania’s neighbor to the south, the rate of teenage pregnancy has come down slightly, although the total numbers are higher due to the growing overall population. 

Tanzania made international headlines in 2018 subsequent the government’s announced policy of expelling pregnant girls from school.  (Teenage fathers are not expelled.)  In at least some cases, reportedly, schools impose compulsory pregnancy tests and expectant teenage mothers are publicly caned before their expulsion. 

Girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa bear the highest HIV/AIDS burden in the world.  U.S. President George W. Bush spearheaded the dissemination of antiretroviral medication across sub-Saharan Africa

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania is estimated at 4.7%, an improvement from the 7.5% rate of 2007/2008.   Looking at sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the numbers of new infections and deaths per year have seen a significant decrease, mostly as a result of the discovery and dissemination of antiretroviral medications.  The overall prevalence of HIV in sub-Saharan African is increasing, however, as the number of new cases is greater than the number of deaths. 

Young women and girls in Africa bear the greatest HIV burden of any demographic on Earth.  Because of human biology and the physics of sex, women have a higher risk than men when having sex with an infected partner.  The discovery that circumcision decreases risk of contraction in men by at least 60% has further reduced the number of infected males.  (Of course, circumcision also indirectly saves the females these men might have otherwise infected.)  

In terms of explaining why black Africans have such a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in relation to other races, the emerging science of ancient DNA offers some clues.  Europeans are approximately 2% Neanderthal, and the Neanderthal genes that have endured to the present day are largely linked to specific attributes, such as immunity, skin color, height, and mood.  Although many questions remain unanswered, it seems increasingly likely that sub-Saharan Africans have some immunity-related disadvantages in connection with not having a genetic contribution from this extinct human species, Homo neanderthalensis.

Note: Sources provided via the links above, which have a blue font color. 

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