KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed into law the criminalization of HIV transmission. The HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act mandates testing and could lead to the imprisonment of those with “positive” results. The bill was proposed in May and made into law July 31.
Health advocates argue that the law further stigmatizes HIV, contributing to the growing trend of its transmission in Uganda. Director of International Policy with Global Access Project, Asia Russell, argues it will prevent people from seeking treatment.
“What we’ve seen is that in contexts where knowing your HIV status can be used as a criminal liability against you, it actually makes people hesitate. And the last thing we need is one more reason for people at greatest risk of infection to hesitate before seeking a test,” she said.
On the other hand, the law also works to end employment discrimination of HIV positive individuals. Proponents of the law argue that the criminalization aspect will best combat intentional transmission, something even illegal in the United States.
“People who have had a chance to get tested have been availed with information on how to have safe sex and to prevent themselves from infecting other people,” said Ugandan marketing consultant Godfrey Mugisha in an interview with Voice of America. “So anyone who goes ahead and knowingly infects another person, that is criminal.”
An estimated 7.4 percent of the Ugandan population lives with HIV according to UNAIDS. Despite once serving as a regional leader in reducing HIV/AIDS, recently the country has witnessed an influx of infections by about 140,00 per year.
Russell attests this to recent failure to implement previous workable strategies, like accesible voluntary clinics and condom promotion. Representatives from the Uganda Health and Science Press Association have said that recent legislation ignores successful methods to make a moral statement.
This legislation comes in the midst of controversy regarding Uganda’s policies on the LGBT community. It was just a few weeks ago that the nation’s Constitutional Court overturned legislation criminalizing homosexuality.
UNAIDS has promoted the importance of protection of all individuals seeking health services, and felt the repeal of anti-gay legislation would do just that. Anti-gay legislation lead to increased spread in HIV as it shamed gay and bisexual men especially out of seeking treatment. Some clinics in Uganda were raided by those seeking information on gay patients, according to Dr. Chris Beyrer in “Pushback: The Current Wave of Anti-Homosexuality Laws and Impacts on Health.”
Anti-gay laws serve as another example of morality legislation in Uganda and many feel it was overturned due to international controversy. Health advocates therefore fear that the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act will serve as a step backward.
– Ellie Sennett