The criminalisation of HIV Transmission in Uganda – good or bad?

The HIV Prevention and Control Act was passed by the Ugandan government yesterday and many have questioned and challenged the legality of an act which has been considered to be discriminatory as well as a violation of the human rights of those who fall within the scope of the act. The act places mandatory testing on pregnant women and their partners and also gives medical providers the permission to disclose the HIV status of individuals to others. For me, however the most controversial element of the act is the way in which it criminalises the transmission of HIV, attempted HIV transmission and any behaviour that might result in transmission by those who are aware of their HIV status. For a very long time the spread of HIV has been a contentious issue in many parts of Africa, and it feels almost as though the enactment of this legislation only operates to take us a step backward in the fight against the stigmatisation and prejudice that HIV carriers face today.

The act seems to attempt at some form of compromise by asserting that the transmission of the disease must be ‘wilful’ or ‘intentional’ – but how do you prove this? It is difficult and indeed problematic and can potentially cause quite serious tensions in Uganda – an unnecessary addition to the tensions that already exist surrounding HIV.  However, what is most important is the fact that the act does nothing to challenge the ever increasing rates of HIV infection in Uganda. What do we do about those who spread the disease unintentionally? Currently 7.2 per cent of the population in Uganda live with HIV which totals to around 1.4 million people – including 190,000 children. Something more substantial than a discriminatory and inattentive piece of legislation needs to be done.  The executive director of Uganda Network on law, ethics and HIV/AIDS summarised the issue in a great way by saying that: ‘for Uganda to address its HIV epidemic effectively, it needs to partner with  people living with HIV, not blame them, criminalise them, and exclude them from policy making’.

What do you think?