News / Africa

Critics Say Uganda's New HIV Law a Giant Step Backward

A newly-diagnosed HIV positive woman in the treatment ward of the Mildmay, Uganda clinic, Feb. 27, 2014.
A newly-diagnosed HIV positive woman in the treatment ward of the Mildmay, Uganda clinic, Feb. 27, 2014.
— A Ugandan bill criminalizing the "willful" transmission of HIV and mandating HIV tests for certain groups is awaiting the president's signature to become law.  Such a law could be a setback in the country's fight against AIDS.
 
The bill President Yoweri Museveni will be asked to sign hands out lengthy jail terms for those convicted of intentionally spreading HIV, or attempting to spread it.  It also mandates testing for pregnant women and victims of sexual assault, among others.
 
Ugandan MP Chris Baryomunsi told local journalists he supports the bill because it punishes people who threaten the community.
 
"The law is not unfairly targeting anybody, but rather it is addressing somebody who has tested for HIV and knows his or her status and, out of malice, intentionally wants to infect others," said Baryomunsi.

 But many experts say the bill is a giant step backward in the fight against Uganda's HIV epidemic.  Civil society and HIV activists have rallied against it.  Even the government-run Uganda AIDS Commission refuses to support the bill.
 
But Dorah Musinguzi, of the Ugandan Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS, says their efforts so far have been futile.
 
"The Uganda AIDS Commission came out, and the Ministry of Health in some ways.  But this has not been bought. A wise nation at this particular moment would have seen what the technical people are advising," said Musinguzi.
 
One concern, Musinguzi says, is the effect the law would have on people's decision to get tested.  You can only be prosecuted under the law if you know your HIV status, she points out.
 
"According to statistics, Ugandans who have tested are 33 percent.  Those who have not yet tested are 67 percent," she said. "If they have not tested when there was no law that threatens them as potential criminals, are they going to test now that there is a law?"
 
Uganda is not the first to pass laws criminalizing HIV.  Paula Donovan, of the New York-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World, says this is becoming a trend in Africa.
 
"Since about the turn of the century, when there were no HIV-specific laws at all, it appears that there are about 25 countries in Africa that have attempted in one way or another to criminalize specific aspects of HIV.  That's about half the countries in Africa, and it's expected that other countries will follow," said Donovan.
 
Nor is Africa alone. Prosecutions for intentional transmission of HIV are actually more common in the West, says Donovan, although not always under HIV-specific laws.
 
Despite the growing prevalence of such laws, there is no evidence that they are even necessary, she adds.
 
"There's absolutely no evidence that in any country, in any situation, that criminalizing transmission lowers the incidence of HIV.  I don't think there's any evidence that there is a great incidence of people who are HIV positive who are going around trying to spread the infection to others," she said.
 
Civil society activists say they will try to make their case to President Museveni in person before he decides whether or not to sign the bill into law.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid