Criminalizing HIV Transmission in Uganda Will ‘Negatively Impact’ Public Health, Opinion Piece Says
In response to "serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread" of HIV/AIDS and the "perceived" ineffectiveness of HIV prevention efforts, the Ugandan government is considering an "overarching legal response" to HIV transmission, Andrew Bahemuka, policy advocacy officer at the Uganda Women's Network, writes in a New Vision opinion piece. Bahemuka writes that "applying criminal law to HIV exposure or transmission" does not contribute to HIV prevention efforts, and in fact "does the opposite" by "reinforc[ing] the stereotype that people living with HIV are immoral and dangerous criminals, rather than, like everyone else, people endowed with responsibility, dignity and human rights."
According to Bahemuka, the criminalization of HIV transmission could disproportionately affect women, who might experience prosecution resulting from mother-to-child HIV transmission. In addition, other women might be reluctant to inform sexual partners of their HIV status if they are in an abusive relationship, Bahemuka writes. He continues that criminalization "is unlikely to prevent new infections or reduce women's vulnerability to HIV" and that it actually could "harm women rather than assist them, and negatively impact both on public health and human rights." Furthermore, criminalizing HIV transmission "does nothing to address the real problem, which is women's overall lack of power in society," Bahemuka writes. According to Bahemuka, the "obvious exception" to not criminalizing HIV transmission "involves cases where individuals purposely or maliciously transmit HIV with the intent to harm others." However, he writes that "existing criminal laws are sufficient to punish" these individuals because "laws against bodily harm can be applied to HIV transmission."
Bahemuka writes that criminalizing HIV transmission "immediately invokes stigma, discrimination and a disincentive for voluntary testing, and access to care and treatment." Therefore, instead of enacting legal repercussions for HIV exposure, the Ugandan government "should focus on empowering people living with HIV to seek HIV testing, disclose their status, and practice safer sex without fear of stigma and discrimination," Bahemuka writes. According to Bahemuka, there is a "need" for the Ugandan government "to consult widely with the different stakeholders to make the current bill human rights-responsive." He concludes, "That is when we shall consolidate the gains the country has made in the HIV/AIDS struggle" (Bahemuka, New Vision, 4/15).