New law in Uganda likely to set back gains made in HIV & AIDS

{Photo credit: Rui Pires}Photo credit: Rui Pires

MSH Urges President Museveni to Veto HIV & AIDS Prevention and Control Bill 2010

MSH is deeply concerned about a new discriminatory and damaging law passed last week in Uganda.  The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, 2010, passed last week by the Ugandan Parliament, makes it a crime to “willfully, knowingly and intentionally” infect another with HIV and makes it mandatory for men to be tested alongside their wives/pregnant partners. 

MSH calls on President Museveni of Uganda to veto this bill. MSH believes, along with many other groups, that these laws requiring mandatory testing will damage HIV prevention efforts and will have the opposite of their intended affect.  

Under clause 4 of the bill, a person who knowingly transmits HIVAIDS to another shall, on conviction, be liable for a fine of not more than Shs4.8 million ($1,900) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or both.

Clause 14 makes it mandatory for men to test alongside their pregnant partners with a view that both parents are responsible for protecting the unborn child from acquiring the disease.

 “While portions of this bill may seem well-intentioned, mandatory testing laws are regressive and serve to drive people away from presentation to health facilities for HIV prevention, counseling, treatment and care. No one should be required by the government or anyone else to learn their status or worse, for fear of fines, imprisonment or both, go untested,“ said Scott Kellerman, MD, MPH, MSH’s Global Technical Lead for HIV/AIDS.
“MSH certainly believes that getting tested for HIV is an individual’s responsibility but we also believe it should be their choice. Our experience in the US, Western Europe, and many parts of Africa shows that mandatory testing laws like these only further fuel stigma and discrimination and serve as a scare tactic that deters people from presenting for HIV testing and seeking other HIV-related services.  There is a perverse disincentive here, since only those who are aware of their HIV status will be held criminally liable if HIV is transmitted to another person.  Experience has taught us that rather than risk fines or imprisonment, many will forgo testing entirely.  We now have many practical, pragmatic approaches to encouraging testing and disclosure, addressing vertical transmission and linking those in need to effective services.  These laws may undermine proven prevention approaches. ” said Dr. Kellerman. 

Additional clauses in the Uganda bill include:

  • Clause 21: Medical workers can disclose the status of HIV positive people without their consent in circumstances where other people’s lives are endangered.  This clause interferes with medical ethics, the doctor-patient relationship, and infringes on patients’ right to privacy.
  • Clause 19: Compels parents to reveal their HIV status to their children. Also, persons suspected (not convicted) of sexual offences shall be subjected to mandatory HIV testing.

MSH calls on President Museveni to veto this law. MSH is proud to work with our health partners in Uganda who create programs to uphold dignity and respect for people living with or at risk for HIV. We fear that these laws will reverse gains that have been made.