Sunday May 11 2014

House okays HIV Bill

A Mbarara – Mulago Teaching Hospitals Joint Aids Programme (MJAP) official

A Mbarara – Mulago Teaching Hospitals Joint Aids Programme (MJAP) official takes samples of blood from a lady during a free HIV and Aids testing and counselling exercise. Photo by Yusuf Muziransa 

By Mercy Nalugo

Despite calls for amendment of certain clauses, Parliament last week passed the HIV Prevention and Control Bill.

Endorsing some clauses in the HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill was “as good as a plate of food with a bit of poison” is what Ms Dorah Musinguzi, the Executive Director of Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV, said last week.

As Parliament put aside all other business and endorsed Clause 41 of the HIV Prevention and Control Bill that criminalises the intentional spread of HIV/Aids, HIV activists could not hold on to their anger but storm out of Parliament in protest. The activists also opposed Clause 39 of the Bill that provides for punitive measures against a person who attempts to transmit HIV.
In the case of Clause 41(1), a person, who wilfully and intentionally transmits HIV/Aids to another person, commits an offence and on conviction shall be liable to a fine of not more than Shs4.8 million or imprisonment for not more than 10 years or both. Clause 39 introduces a five-year prison sentence or a fine of Shs240,000.
“The clause should have been deleted because. It is not practicable and will create a bigger problem. HIV is an infection and if you criminalise the spread of an infection, you are limiting chances of preventing it,” said Ms Florence Buluba, the Executive Director of the National Community of Women Living with HIV.

“The good thing is it provides for counselling and funding but it will not achieve the desired goals with Article 39 and 41 in the Bill,” Ms Musinguzi added.

For example, the Bill emphasises professional counselling to be conducted by trained HIV counsellors and medical practitioners in Clause 5. Clause 28 of the Bill, which was overwhelmingly supported by the MPs, also establishes the HIV/Aids Trust Fund which guarantees the sustainability of the Aids funding. Parliament would, however, decide in which ministry or department to put the Fund.

The legislators also adopted Clause 14 that makes it mandatory for men to test alongside their pregnant partners with a view of placing an obligation on both parents to be responsible and protecting the unborn child from acquiring the disease.

While Some MPs opposed this particular clause, the Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, insisted that it is stayed since “it is important to advocate for responsible parenting”.

MPs also dismissed an amendment suggested by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati to subject all couples intending to marry to an HIV test.

“Let those going to get married test voluntarily like has been the case otherwise we may discourage people from getting married. Also we have so many cohabitants out there so what happens to them? Let’s make a law that will serve a purpose,” said Ms Naome Kabule (Luuka Woman) before Bahati’s amendment call was defeated.

Clause 19 of the Bill was passed and would compel parents to reveal their HIV status to their children.

Also persons suspected of sexual offences shall be subjected to mandatory HIV testing.
It would be a crime, under Clause 44, for one to give misleading statements or information regarding HIV/Aids. The clause puts in place a punishment of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or a fine of Shs4.8 million for those that give misleading information.
Debate on the Bill resumes next Tuesday.

Tobacco Bill
Another controversial Bill, however, lies ahead. The Tobacco Control Bill, 2014, which is before the Parliamentary Health committee. It was designed to control the consumption and sale of tobacco products to reduce the health risks associated with it.

Whereas civil society made a case before the Parliamentary Health committee in support of the Bill saying it will save the future generation from the health hazards associated with smoking, the British American Tobacco (BAT) Uganda and the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) have reservations on some clauses in the Bill which they want amended.

Meanwhile, the MPs on the Defence Committee approved Shs968 billion budget for the Ministry of Defence after they hailed UPDF for creating peace in South Sudan.

Besides that, the Uganda Wildlife Authority needs Shs107 billion to replant trees in the degraded areas of Mt Elgon National Park.