Saturday May 24 2014

Adopt non discriminatory strategies to fight HIV crime

By Julius Ssentamu

After viewing and analysing the varied comments on the HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill, 2010, as endorsed by the 9th Parliament and only pending the President’s signature, the reality is that it will complicate the lives of those living with HIV/Aids in Uganda.

However, this is not the same with the East African HIV Prevention and Management Act which was endorsed by the same President. One wonders why that of Uganda has to be that harsh!
History has it that in 1980s, it was difficult to disclose one’s HIV status because of fear of stigma and discrimination.

However, due to limited counselling services, this may increase. The prevalence rate was more than 18 per cent. However, due to friendly strategies, it reduced to less than 7 per cent. This remarkable change was not due to application of complicated laws and policies but rather use of ABC and other behavioural change mechanisms.

The current increase in the prevalence rate to 7.3 per cent is greatly attributed to the more time and resources spent on HIV policies and legislation than on HIV awareness, care, and treatment and stigma reduction strategies.

You and I may have either tested or be planning to test for HIV for obvious reasons but not for purposes of criminal proceedings and investigations! We may also intentionally avoid this due to fear of legal implications under clause 13 of the Bill.

Clause 39 makes it more complicated by not clearly showing the limitation of attempted transmission. It is very difficult to obtain evidence that one attempted to transmit the disease to the other. One may find it easy to report someone who is well known in the society to be living with HIV/Aids that he/she transmitted the disease to other people intentionally.
It is scientifically difficult to prove the type of virus due to limited technology and resources.

However, one may suggest that technology will catch up with the law but why do we make a law whose implementation will remain pending till an appropriate mechanism for proof is found?

Do we need a law in the fight against the pandemic or an approach that is human rights based? We need human rights based approach than a law that may scare away people from testing and seeking medical attention in case of positive results.

It is nice that there are attempts to establish the trust fund for HIV relevant innovations but do we need specific laws in order to establish such funds? Good enough the fund is intended to supplement government budgetary allocations as well as contributions given by our development partners which are specific in nature.

We would need guidelines on critical points like how this money will be collected and utilised, which is subject to procurement procedures under the procurement Act and the contractual obligations from the development partners.

By having a law that criminalises specifically HIV, may prompt Uganda to have laws on other STDs, that the country pledged to fight Under Millennium Development Goal 6. It talks of other diseases which may be spread in the same way as HIV.

Since we cannot legislate on everything, the Penal Code Act under section 171 and other existing laws present enough remedies to diseases. In the Rosemary Namubiru case, the nurse was sentenced to three years in jail before passing the HIV Bill.

Uganda has laws on rape and defilement but criminal records show that these have persistently scored high. This means that the law is not a solution to every challenge.

It is very possible to win a war without necessarily using the law but through round table discussions. We can respond to the effects of HIV pandemic without instilling fear in people living with HIV by having a law that intends to criminalise fellow Ugandans as clause 41 of the HIV Bill intends to.

Before putting the lives of people living with HIV/Aids in danger like the Anti-Pornography Act which prompted violence on mostly women, we better have non discriminatory strategies than laws that stop people from testing and engaging in other HIV interventions.

Mr Ssentamu is a project officer.