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MPs pass Bill that will make men test for HIV alongside their wives

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A medical officer takes a blood sample from a patient. The new Bill if assented to will make it compulsory for men to test alongside their pregnant wives. PHOTO BY Abubakar Lubowa. 

By MERCY NALUGO & Agatha Ayebazibwe

Posted  Wednesday, May 14  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

Contentious. Under the Bill a person who knowingly spreads HIV will be handed a fine of Shs4.8 million or imprisoned for not more than 10 years.

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PARLIAMENT.
If President Museveni assents to the new HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill, 2010, passed by Parliament yesterday, it will be criminal for a person to ‘willfully’ or ‘intentionally’ infect another with the HIV/Aids virus.
Under Clause 41(1), a person who knowingly transmits HIV/Aids to another shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine of not more that Shs4.8 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or both.

Additionally, Clause 14 of the BIll 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 protect the unborn child from acquiring the disease.

The criminalisation of the HIV spread has been opposed by health professionals and rights activists who stormed out of Parliament yesterday, saying the well-intentioned Bill will not serve its purpose because of clause [41(1)] that will deter people from testing and seeking other HIV related services.
Ms Lillian Mworeko, the regional coordinator for International Community of Women Living With HIV, said the clause only seeks to punish people who wilfully infect others when they are aware of their HIV status.

“Now, this means that only those who know their status before transmission will be prosecuted. This will prevent people from knowing their sero status for fear of the [clause] being used against them,” she said. She appealed to the President not to assent to the Bill without listening to scientists. The Bill also establishes a fund, the HIV Trust Fund, which will help boost the fight against the pandemic.

The proposed fund imposes an obligation on the government to make quarterly contributions to ministry of Health. This fund guarantees the sustainability of funding since HIV/Aids activities are majorly funded by the donors. Government will contribute 2 per cent to the fund off levies from beer, bottled water and soft drinks.
Clause 39, which also stoked controversy, introduces a five-year sentence for a person convicted of attempting to transmit HIV/Aids to another or a fine of Shs240,000.
“I am very disappointed that Parliament, with three ministers present could pass this Bill well aware of its consequences on the HIV fight,” said Dr Lydia Mungherera, an HIV activist.

Two weeks ago, scientists from the Uganda Virus Research Institute warned on the likely grave consequences that may arise from passing of the HIV/Aids Bill with a clause that seeks to criminalise intentional transmission of HIV.
Dr Peter Mugyenyi, a senior researcher at Joint Clinical Research Centre, said the “clause on criminalisation will prevent people from testing for HIV since the clause stipulates that, “a person who knowingly transmits HIV to another person shall be prosecutable”.
“This means that if I don’t know my status, I can’t be prosecuted. Already, we have very few people knowing their HIV status but this clause will work further to stop those who would have voluntarily wanted to know their status,” Dr Mugyenyi said.

key clauses
Clause 21. Medical workers can disclose the status of HIV positive people without their consent in circumstances where other people’s lives are endangered.

Clause 19. Compels parents to reveal their HIV status to their children. Also, persons suspected of sexual offences shall be subjected to mandatory HIV testing.

Clause 44. It would be a crime 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.

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