An Open Letter to the Slovak Republic,
On occasion of Human Rights Day 2010, as people who are part of the Namibian Association of AIDS Service Organizations, we wish to pose you a serious question: Why do you require Namibian young people who aspire to apply for a scholarship in your esteemed country to have an HIV test? We are referring to the advert “Scholarship offered by Slovak Republic – 2010” in The New Era on June 16 2010.
Do you believe that candidates of good health and outstanding academic merit could only be HIV negative? An eligibility criterion for your advert suggests that HIV positive youths need not apply for the scholarship: “Applicants: must be in good health; full medical reports as well as HIV test results should be submitted.” We trust that you know that HIV is no longer a death sentence in Namibia. People of different age groups are leading productive lives because of our biomedical interventions – notably the universal distribution of antiretroviral therapy (ART). People now have a chance of a healthy life, free from opportunistic the infections, such as Tuberculosis that decimated AIDS patients in pre-ART era. To live a healthy life, people living with HIV should lead especially healthy conscious lifestyles, much like a person living with diabetes or a single kidney needs to take extra health precautions. Indeed, we are confident that there are candidates for your scholarship who live with different chronic diseases of which HIV is just one. It would be unconscionable to deny someone access to a scholarship because of disease condition that is not life threatening. We assume you agree.
Do you aim to prevent the spread of HIV in Slovakia by barring HIV positive people from applying for scholarship? Being in the European Union, we assume you are at cutting edge of medical research and that you are fully aware how ART affects HIV in the body. Adherence to an ART regimen has shown to reduce the HIV viral load to below the limit of detection which effectively prevents transmission. Therefore, we cannot assume you would deny HIV positive people access to your country because of irrational fears of unleashing HIV on your population.
Therefore, we can only conclude that your stipulation for HIV test results would be to encourage young people to access voluntary counseling and testing. A great number of us have been recipients of scholarships overseas and we know it required a considerable amount of agency on our part. Hence, a young person who wishes to make the important decision of studying abroad should also take the equally important decision of knowing his or her HIV status.
Given the historic ties of cooperation between Slovakia and Namibia, we trust you are offering the scholarships for development of our nation. Because of this, we believe that you would not divest HIV positive orphans and vulnerable children of their future by excluding them from any scholarships you have to offer. Against this background, this letter may seem unnecessary, but we wanted to confirm, just in case you had any other ideas.
List of signatories (hard copy of the signatures is available upon request)
Simeon S N
Lily K Nghifewa