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Why aren’t rape victims screened for STDs or infectious diseases?

By: Mahnoor Sherazee

KARACHI: Most medico legal officers (MLOs) at public sector hospitals throughout the city do not test rape victims for sexually transmitted diseases, citing a lack of facilities, funds and resources. Their reasoning is that it is not in their jurisdiction to conduct ‘extra tests’, especially those that the investigating police officer did not ask for.

The complications associated with the lack of a proper medical examination of a rape victim are endless, said a MLO. “For example, if a woman is impregnated or contracts a sexually transmitted disease (STD) as a result of the rape she is a risk to the unborn child.”

There are three main medico-legal centres in the city — Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Civil hospital and Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. There are an additional nine sub-centres but none of these are currently functional. While talking to The Express Tribune about why the Police Surgeon Office did not conduct these tests, an official from the office said that they could only conduct the tests they had been asked to do. “For example, in rape cases we are usually just asked to determine whether or not the person was raped,” said the official. “If yes, then a DNA sample is required. We are not at liberty to conduct additional tests.”

The official added that many women who come in to be examined were uneducated or unaware of STDs and its affects.

“If a woman wanted to be screened for STDs or other infectious diseases such as Hepatitis, we do assist them,” said a female MLO. “We refer them to a private facility. They have to pay Rs2,000 for the tests, so not everyone can afford it.” She added that although many women were unaware about STDs, there were some educated women who wanted to know more.

War Against Rape (WAR) Director Sarah Zaman said it was ‘just logical’ to screen rape victims for STDs but it was not done as per medical examination.

“Majority of rape cases are unprotected,” she said. “Most women are unaware of the possibility of transmission of diseases and it is a cause of concern that must be looked into.”

According to Zaman, the provincial health department was ‘a hard nut to crack’. She added that WAR and other organisations were in contact with them for a new bill to protect rape victims.

According to Sindh Secretary for Health Syed Hashim Raza Zaidi, rape victims were not screened because it was not part of routine investigation. “It should be done,” he said. “We never really thought about it. The health department is going to look into this and the government will start bearing the cost to screen for infectious diseases and STDs soon.”

Officials in the Police Surgeon Office claim that even for routine cases, the rape victim’s relatives have to supply gloves and slides to the MLOs for the examination as there are not enough funds to pay for those.

Besides the lack of funds, most MLOs and rape victims face another major problem. Ideally, the test for STDs and other infectious diseases should be conducted 14 days after the incident but many women do not want to return to the centre. “We would like to counsel rape survivors,” said the MLO. “Once they come they don’t want to return and follow-ups are a huge issue.”

As nearly 125,000 people in the country are infected with HIV and Aids is on the rise, all avenues of its possible spread need to be taken seriously.

Source: Tribune