An interesting editorial appeared today in Uganda's New Vision about the use of the criminal law for HIV exposure or transmission in the aftermath of the Johnson Aziga verdict. Mr Aziga was born in Uganda, which is currently debating its own HIV-specific criminal transmission laws.
Self-protection, not law will curb HIV infection
Publication date: Tuesday, 14th April, 2009
A Ugandan living in Canada has been found guilty of murdering his two sexual partners by infecting them with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Johnson Aziga was convicted of first-degree murder of two women and aggravated sexual assault of 11 others. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. In Uganda, the intentional spread of HIV/AIDS is not covered by the Penal Code but the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, now in Parliament, which seeks to make it an offence.
Alison Symington of the Canadian Legal Network, says the conviction is troubling because a sexually-transmitted infection is equated to murder.
The case of Aziga raises several legal, ethical and public health issues. Should diseases be legally classified? The Canadian prosecutors say the two women were murdered because Aziga infected them with a ‘slow-acting poison’ since they did not know he had HIV. Would this ‘slow poison’ have been less lethal had the women known Aziga’s health status? What was the women’s HIV status before they had sex with Aziga? The Supreme Court of Canada in 2005 ruled that one partner cannot give consent for sexual relations if the other fails to disclose an HIV infection.
Depending on partners’ ‘disclosure’ of their HIV status is very risky and should not be encouraged. Aziga’s case proves that AIDS is incurable and, therefore, everybody must take care of themselves. Aziga did not rape the women he infected.
They consented to unprotected sex with a person whose HIV status they did not know when they could have negotiated safe sex or declined his advances altogether. It was not only Aziga who was reckless, but the women as well.
By having unprotected sex with multiple partners, Aziga courted the spectre of contracting drug-resistant HIV and recycling it through reinfection. The only sure way of curbing HIV infection is not through legislation but aggressive sensitisation about self-protection and behaviour change since there is no known cure of HIV to date.