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Deliberate Spread of HIV: Should it be Punished, or Not?

Health

Deliberate Spread of HIV: Should it be Punished, or Not?

The passing of HIV Prevention and Control Bill, rights and lives of every Uganda.

The bill includes three mandatory clauses. The first one calls for mandatory HIV testing for pregnant women and their partners.

The second allows medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others, especially their partners or those whom in the discretion of the medical officer are in danger of being infected by the patient. The bill also criminalizes HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behaviour that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status.

Human rights activists have castigated the passed act as discriminatory and one that will entrench stigma and hate in society against people suffering from the disease, rather than promote compassion, peaceful co-existence and care for the sick.

Opponents of the bill have asked President Museveni not to sign it into law, saying it will drive people especially Pregnant women, away from health centers to receive professional ante-natal services for fear that their partners may refuse to accompany them, or that they may turn violent when they find out they are HIV-positive.

Three human rights and health orgnaisations; Human Rights Watch, HEALTH Global Advocacy Project, and Uganda Network on Law, Ethics & HIV/AIDS have jointly issued a statement condemning the bill as a discriminatory act that ‘will impede the fight against AIDS’.

“This HIV bill is yet another step backward in the fight against AIDS in Uganda,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is founded on stigma and discrimination and based on approaches that have been condemned by international health agencies as ineffective and violating the rights of people living with HIV.”

Mandatory HIV testing and the disclosure of medical information without consent are contrary to international best practices and violate fundamental human rights, the three groups said. The criminalization of HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behaviour that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status is overly broad, and difficult to enforce.

According to the Health Ministry 2012 AIDS Indicator Survey, an estimated 1.5 million Ugandans were living with HIV. There are at least 140,000 new infections annually, including 28,000 from maternal to child transmission.

And yet, Uganda’s HIV/AIDS fight continues to weaken largely because of widespread perceptions that HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence – a wrong perception indeed.

Recent reports reveal that intentional and deliberate spread of HIV in Uganda is a common phenomenon. This happens especially among married couples, the youth as well as in health centers. Most unfortunately, the infectors are usually people whom the victims love and trust.

In early December of last year for example, Sarah, (not real name) an HIV positive lady checked into Mpereza Maternity Ward at Mengo Hospital to deliver her first born. She informed the doctors of her HIV-status who advised that she delivers by cesarean section.

She was coughing incessantly and many in the ward sympathized with her knowing how painful it can be to cough when one has undergone cesarean birth. But Sarah was jovial to see her baby girl because, as she whispered to a fellow patient nearby, she longed to have an HIV-free child despite the fact that she was infected.
 
Although she seemed happy, she could not hide the vile and rancor she had on heart.  

She told her neighbour that only her and her mother who was attending to her, knew the real truth about her health. Her husband and co-wife didn’t know she was HIV-positive. In essence, she willingly and deliberately spread the virus to her husband, co-wife and possibly several others.

Sarah is one of a growing number of people in Uganda, such as children born with HIV but have come of age who want to have HIV-Free children by endangering the lives of others.

In their various testimonies, many now grown up youth born with HIV, have revealed they want to live ‘normal lives’ and marry HIV negative partners.

Ugandans are again faced with two difficult choices. Considering that the sick have equal rights with their normal counterparts, balance would be found by safeguarding the rights of both, without endangering any of the parties.

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