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Thursday 20 May 2010

Uganda: Latest version of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act introduced, HRW analysis

Yesterday, Beatrice Rwakimari, Chairperson of the Committee on HIV/AIDS and Related Matters introduced the latest version of the 2010 HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act to the Ugandan parliament.

According to a press release from Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued yesterday:

"The bill contains measures that have been proven ineffective against the AIDS epidemic and that violate the rights of people living with HIV," said Joe Amon, Health and Human Rights director at Human Rights Watch. "The HIV epidemic in Uganda is getting worse, and this bill is another example of misguided, ideological approaches and lack of leadership."

The bill as currently written codifies discredited approaches to the AIDS epidemic and contains dangerously vague criminal provisions. Contrary to international best practices, the bill would criminalize HIV transmission and behavior that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status.

The bill would discourage voluntary HIV testing, while making testing mandatory for pregnant women, their partners, suspected perpetrators and victims of sexual offenses, drug users, and prostitutes, in violation of fundamental principles of consent. The bill also allows medical practitioners to disclose a patient's HIV status to others, breaching confidentiality standards. These provisions could potentially endanger those who are infected by exposing them to stigma, discrimination, and physical violence.
Last November, HRW and 50 Ugandan and international organisations commented on an earlier draft of the bill.

Since then, notes HRW, "the law was partially improved by removal of criminal penalty for the transmission of HIV from mother to child through breastfeeding."

However, many problematic provisions remain including those relating to:
  • HIV testing and counseling, generally and among minors
  • Notification and disclosure obligations
  • Criminalisation of HIV transmission
  • Criminalisation of other conduct related to HIV/AIDS
Earlier this month, in a letter to Uganda's Parliament, Human Rights Watch released an updated analysis of the bill which highlights:
numerous provisions that contravene the right to equal protection and non-discrimination under Uganda's constitution and Uganda's obligations under international human rights law. Furthermore, these provisions will ultimately prove counterproductive to reducing the burden of the HIV epidemic in the country.
HRW's press release concludes:
"Like the anti-homosexuality bill, the HIV/AIDS bill tramples on rights and encourages stigma and intolerance," Amon said. "The international community and Ugandan civil society have been vocal and clear about the problems in the bill. It is time for Uganda's parliament to listen and amend these damaging provisions."

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