Kampala- The controversial HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill, 2010, which was endorsed by Parliament two days ago, has attracted more dissenting voices with the latest coming from the Human Rights Watch, Health Global Advocacy Project and the Uganda Network on Law and Ethics and HIV/Aids (UGANET)who said it is “deeply flawed” and promotes “discrimination”.
The activists have, as a way forward, vowed to petition President Museveni to compel him not to assent to the Act. The President has up to 90 days to sign the Bill so that it becomes an Act of Parliament.
But government insisted yesterday that the Bill is a “positive one” and that the concerns raised by the activists would be rectified during the Bill’s implementation stage.
In a joint statement to Daily Monitor yesterday, the organisations emphasised that the Bill is discriminatory and will impede the fight against Aids.
“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,” remarked Ms Dorah Kiconco, the executive director of UGANET.
She emphasizing that: “The president should not sign this Bill but should instead ensure a rights-based approach, recognising that people living with HIV will prevent transmission if they are empowered and supported.”
The statement by the international bodies comes a day after health professionals and rights activists stormed out of Parliament on Tuesday 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.
But the Minister of Health, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, in his response urged the activists not to “tear apart” the Bill since it comes with positive attributes.
“We shall do everything possible to avoid anything that stigmatises people in the course of implementation of the law,” said Dr Rugunda.
He described the Bill as a “positive one” in terms of mobilisation of resources through the national HIV Fund.
The MPs, however, insisted during the Bill’s debate that subjecting women and their partners to a compulsory test was aimed at protecting the unborn child.
The Bill also criminalises the HIV transmission, attempted transmission, and behaviour that might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status.
Under Clause 41(1), a person who knowingly transmits HIV/Aids to another shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine of not more than Shs4.8 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or both.
Whereas Parliament passed clause 41(1) unanimously without debate, the MPs on the health committee maintained the Clause in their report to Parliament saying that criminalisation does not demonise people living with HIV but rather places an obligation on them to be responsible and fair to others.
ABOUT THE BILL
The HIV Bill, a private members’ initiative, was tabled before Parliament by legislators on the Parliamentary HIV/Aids Committee during the 8th Parliament in 2010. The Bill was premised on the fact that whereas Uganda won many accolades when it reversed the HIV prevalence rate from 18.5 per cent in the early 90s to 6.2 per cent in 2003, recent studies from the Ministry of Health’s Sero Behaviour Survey (2011) and UNAIDs Epidermic Update (2012) indicate that HIV is on the rise from 6.4 per cent in 2005 to 7.2 per cent in 2011.
While government in 2009 embraced a policy of universal access to ARVs, the number of people who were eligible for ARVs was 540,094 out of which only 48 per cent were receiving treatment leaving out 52 per cent.
Human rights and Health rights activists from the onset have been consistent in opposing the Bill they say threatens the progress the country has made in managing and controlling the disease.