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Swiss African Forum tackles Aids stigma

The Swiss African Forum wants to raise awareness about the stigma of Aids Keystone

The stigma associated with Aids – and how to combat it – was the subject of a symposium hosted last week by the Swiss African Forum (SAF) in Bern.

This content was published on January 26, 2004 - 11:54

Attention focused on controversial proposals by the Federal Health Office to introduce HIV tests on asylum seekers entering the country.

The meeting – the second of its kind since the SAF was launched last August - came less than a week after details of the health office’s plans were made public.

Roger Staub, head of the office’s Aids section, turned away from a prepared speech on Aids discrimination to address specific concerns about the proposals.

“Our plans are for voluntary HIV counselling and testing for asylum seekers,” he said.

“We want to ensure that this [testing programme] has no discriminatory effects and are opposed to proposals from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party that it should be compulsory and that asylum seekers who test positive should be turned back.”

Staub added that the tests would be introduced in association with private partners, including the Swiss Red Cross.

Call for anonymity

Swiss Aids activist Romy Mathys – herself HIV positive – called on the authorities to guarantee anonymity for those who are tested at asylum centres.

“The test has to be voluntary and the results should not be registered in any documentation connected with the asylum process,” she said.

“Asylum seekers should not have to fear that testing HIV positive might mean they are refused asylum in Switzerland.”

Staub confirmed that test results would be kept as “medical information” but would not be used “in either a positive or negative way” when making asylum decisions.

Fears of discrimination

Mathys challenged SAF members to help ensure that the testing of asylum seekers for Aids does not become grounds for discrimination.

“I call on the Swiss African Forum to work out what we can do to help the health office with this, because it is very important that asylum seekers who come to Switzerland understand what an HIV test is,” she said.

“And if the [federal authorities] cannot help them, the SAF should do all it can to assist Africans who seek asylum in Switzerland.”

The number of asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa – where 25 million people are HIV positive - has risen over the past few years.

Public health officials are concerned that foreigners now account for more than half of all new cases of HIV infection in Switzerland.

SAF coordinator, Cyprian Olika, said the aim of the symposium on Aids was to initiate a public debate about the discrimination of Africans living with HIV.

The forum was founded in 2003 to defend and promote the interests of Switzerland’s 35,000-strong African community, in part by countering negative stereotyping.

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

In brief

The Swiss African Forum (SAF) has hosted a symposium in Bern focusing on ways of combating the stigma of Aids.

The meeting came less than a week after government proposals to test asylum seekers for Aids were made public.

The SAF was founded in 2003 to defend the interests of some 35,000 Africans living in Switzerland.

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