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HIV criminalisation bill passed in Uganda

Tuesday, 13 May, 2014

Ugandan HIV activists are angered with news that an HIV criminalisation bill has been passed by parliament this week. If signed into law by the president, the bill will criminalise deliberate transmission of HIV, in a move that is seen as a significant step away from a rights-based approach to combatting the HIV epidemic.

The new bill seeks to get more people testing for HIV and decrease rates of transmission of HIV by people who are unaware of their status. However, activists argue that the law will in fact have the reverse effect, driving more people underground and away from HIV services for fear of discrimination and disclosure of their status. The new bill will also implement mandatory testing for pregnant woman and their partners, and may mean that health workers can disclose someone’s HIV status to family members without their consent.

Uganda is one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa that is experiencing an increase in HIV incidence – over the past five years incidence has increased from 6.4 to 7.3 percent. The anti-homosexuality law, introduced in February 2014, that criminalises same-sex relations is not only a severe violation of human rights, but also ensures that this vulnerable population to HIV are scared to access HIV prevention, testing and treatment services. Further criminalisation of HIV transmission will drive more populations away from HIV services, which will in turn have a negative impact upon the HIV epidemic in Uganda.

Dorah Kinconco Musinguzi, Executive Director of Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UgaNet), said that legislation of this kind does little to affect behaviour change: “If we have not managed to test 67 percent of Ugandans for HIV without a law that punishes transmission, will this number improve when citizens know that more legal burdens are added to testing? The answer is no.”

Activists argue that instead of concentrating resources on legislating against people with HIV and people at risk of HIV, this money should be targeted towards programmes that address violence against woman, human rights violations, and helping those most at risk to HIV. Positive programming that empowers vulnerable populations will have a far greater impact on combatting the epidemic in Uganda than prosecuting against them.