Wednesday May 7 2014

Drop section 41 of HIV Bill

Members of Parliament’s move to enact an HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill, 2010, is commendable. Broadly, the initiative endorses the fight against the epidemic. Nevertheless, MPs should listen to voices of dissent on the Bill. Section 41 is contentious and seeks to criminalise deliberate transmission of HIV/Aids.

Research scientists and technocrats believe Section 41 raises more problems than it seeks to solve. The adversaries contend prosecuting people on grounds of intentional transmission of the virus will discourage Ugandans from testing for the virus. First, the researchers are right that even without the law, Ugandans are already reluctant to know their status. Second, the Bill is self-defeating because the offence can only be committed by persons who already know their HIV status. Even a person living with the disease but has not tested for HIV would have complete defence to such an offence.

The Bill, therefore, demands sober appraisal. The MPs must listen to technocrats and adopt evidence-based strategies. Dr Flavia Kyomukama from the Global Coalition for Women against Aids in Uganda rightly fears the law will only frighten off more people. This means Ugandans will neither test for the virus nor seek treatment but suffer silently and risk more HIV/Aids prevalence. Consequently, government will lose control of HIV/Aids and would in effect encourage its citizens to die in silence and more likely pass it on to others. Moreover, it is arduous to prove who of the two or many sexual partners or spouses passed on the virus to the other.

As Prof Katongole Mbidde of Uganda Virus Research Institute remarked, Uganda does not need laws that seek to prosecute already ill people. Punishment for wilful transmission of HIV/Aids is addressed under Penal Code Act. 171. Indeed, government should instead push for more funding to have all Ugandans living with HIV/Aids access treatment and reduce new infections as proposed by UNAIDs country representative Musa Bungundu.

MPs must push for a National Aids Trust Fund to fund priority interventions as proposed by Uganda Aids Commission (UAC). MPs should heed counsel from UAC chairperson Prof Vinand Nantulya and not erode Uganda’s sterling global record on the fight against HIV/Aids.

The MPs must drop Sections 41of the HIV Bill and opt for policies that stress awareness on HIV/Aids, empower and encourage Ugandans to test freely, and provide easy access to medical services. The Bill must not work against the people it seeks to protect.