(Kampala) – The HIV Prevention and Control Act passed by the Ugandan parliament on May 13, 2014, is discriminatory and will impede the fight against AIDS, Human Rights Watch, HEALTH Global Advocacy Project, and Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS said today.
The bill includes mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women and their partners, and allows medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others. The bill also criminalizes HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behavior that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status.
“This HIV bill is yet another step backward in the fight against AIDS in Uganda,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is founded on stigma and discrimination and based on approaches that have been condemned by international health agencies as ineffective and violating the rights of people living with HIV.”
Mandatory HIV testing and the disclosure of medical information without consent are contrary to international best practices and violate fundamental human rights, the three groups said. The criminalization of HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behavior that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status is overly broad, and difficult to enforce.
UNAIDS and other international agencies have discouraged such laws, which can disproportionately target women, who because of health care during pregnancy may be more likely to know their HIV status.
The bill has been pending in Uganda’s parliament since 2010. It passed even though the Health Ministry’s AIDS Control Program, the Uganda AIDS Commission, and many independent health rights groups in Uganda do not support the contentious clauses and urged Uganda to fight HIV with more effective legislation.
“For Uganda to address its HIV epidemic effectively, it needs to partner with people living with HIV, not blame them, criminalize them, and exclude them from policy making,” said Dorah Kiconco, executive director of Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS. “The president should not sign this bill and instead ensure a rights-based approach, recognizing that people living with HIV will prevent transmission if they are empowered and supported.”
According to the Uganda’s Health Ministry 2012 AIDS Indicator Survey, an estimated 1.5 million Ugandans were living with HIV. There are at least 140,000 new infections annually, including 28,000 from maternal to child transmission. Uganda’s HIV policies over the last decade have emphasized abstinence-only approaches for youth and marital fidelity. Combined with punitive laws against sex workers and homosexuals, these approaches are felt by many to have increased the stigma and discrimination around HIV and discouraged more people from being tested and treated.
“At the upcoming international AIDS conference, Uganda will be the example to all the countries gathered of how not to write laws on the HIV response,” said Asia Russell, international policy director at Health GAP (Global Access Project). “Parliamentarians are doing precisely the opposite of what Uganda should be doing to fight HIV.”