Ugandan Parliament Considers Bill That Would Require HIV Status Disclosure, Provide Some Protections to HIV-Positive People
Uganda's HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill 2008 -- which is under consideration by a committee in Parliament -- aims to criminalize the intentional transmission of HIV, guarantee access to treatment for HIV-positive people and provide protection against discrimination for people living with the disease, Uganda's Daily Monitor reports. According to the Monitor, the draft law comes at a time when public health workers are expressing concern about Uganda's HIV prevalence and an increasing incidence of new cases. The proposed bill will be the Ugandan government's first formal effort to criminalize HIV transmission, the Monitor reports.
According to the Monitor, the bill encourages HIV-positive people to inform their partners about their status and follow prevention and treatment measures to prevent transmission of the virus. The draft law also recommends that health workers notify the sexual partners of people who test positive for HIV if the individual "has been given reasonable opportunity to inform their partner(s) of their HIV-positive status and has failed to do so." Although the bill provides for voluntary HIV testing and counseling, it also would require mandatory testing for people charged with drug abuse, illegal possession of medical instruments, sexual offenses and commercial sex work. In addition, the draft law would permit a court to order an individual to undergo an HIV test, with or without his or her consent. Sexual assault survivors -- as well as pregnant women and their partners -- also would undergo "routine" HIV testing under the proposed law. According to the Monitor, the disclosure terms of the law stem from recent research indicating that HIV transmission commonly occurs among married couples.
In addition to the disclosure requirements, the proposed legislation provides certain protections and services for people living with HIV, including pre- and post-test counseling, the Monitor reports. The bill calls for all pregnant women who test positive for HIV to receive antiretroviral treatment and medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus. In addition, the law would provide HIV testing for infants born to HIV-positive mothers and guarantee treatment, care and support for HIV-positive infants. Under the draft law, employers would be forbidden to require mandatory HIV testing for their employees, and other officials could not require HIV tests before providing services such as credit, insurance or loans. In addition, the draft law prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV status in schools, workplaces or in bids for public office. The law also calls for increased safety measures in hospitals.
Several HIV/AIDS advocates have expressed concern about the disclosure requirements of the proposed legislation, claiming that the provisions could eliminate the confidentiality of voluntary testing and contribute to increased transmission of HIV. Stella Kentutsi of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/AIDS Networks in Uganda said that criminalizing HIV transmission "will automatically affect disclosure, which has been encouraged, and it will therefore increase the level of silent transmission among the population." Robert Ochai, executive director of the AIDS Support Organization, added that the disclosure clauses should be amended or deleted from the draft bill. However, Chris Baryomunsi, vice chair of the Ugandan Parliament's Committee on HIV/AIDS and Related Matters, defended the proposed legislation, saying that other countries have passed similar laws criminalizing HIV transmission. He added that the bill could be amended to address concerns from various groups. Supporters of the bill also argue that the disclosure requirements will help HIV-negative partners undertake measures to prevent contracting the virus from an HIV-positive partner (Naturinda, Daily Monitor, 12/12).