Uganda Parliamentary Committee Drafts Bill to Criminalize Known HIV Transmission

The parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDS in Uganda is currently drafting a bill that would punish people who deliberately infect others with HIV. The intent of the legislation is not to criminalize those people living with HIV/AIDS but instead to punish those people who are HIV-positive and knowingly spread the virus. According to Kihumuro Apuuli, director-general of the Uganda Aids Commission, the biggest factor of the HIV/AIDS population in Uganda is men who are aware that they are HIV-positive but continue to engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners.[1]
 
Uganda is one of many countries that have or are working toward criminalizing the intentional spread of HIV. This trend was debated at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City this past August where proponents of this type of law argued that criminalization of HIV would benefit women.[2] While a male partner may be responsible for first introducing HIV into the relationship, women are frequently blamed as they are more likely to learn about their HIV status before their husbands as a result of prenatal testing.[3] Opponents of such laws, however, fear that laws criminalizing the transmission of HIV, some of which include prosecution of women for mother-to-child-transmission, will further discourage women from being tested for HIV and accessing services that target the prevention of mother-to child transmission of HIV. 
 
Many advocates feel these laws are simply an ineffective response to the spread of HIV, denying the complex social realities which drive HIV transmission and arise as a result of the epidemic. In the fall of 2007, UNAIDS held a three-day international consultation to address the increasing trend of criminalizing HIV transmission.[4] The UNADIS Chief of Policy Coordinator explained, “The real goal of policy makers is preventing new infections but, in fact, criminalizing HIV transmission…will create disincentives for learning about one’s HIV status and accessing health and other services.”[5] UNAIDS maintains that criminalizing HIV has potential to undermine public health and human rights, and urges governments “to limit criminalization to cases of intentional transmission…where a person knows his or her HIV positive status, acts with the intention to transmit HIV, and does in fact transmit it.”[6]
 
Flavia Kyomukama from the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS agreed that the proposed law in Uganda would be a mistake: “The government [of Uganda] must protect the citizens in a way that does not put to risk the lives of an already marginalized group.”[7]


[1] “Advocates Oppose Ugandan Bill That Would Criminalize Deliberate Spread of HIV,” 7 November 2008, MedicalNewsToday, accessed 22 Oct. 2008, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/126382.php
[2] “Uganda: Criminalization of HIV to Hurt Women More,” The Monitor (Kampala), AllAfrica.com, 10 August 2008 accessed 22 October 2008, http://allafrica.com/stories/200808110241.html
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Concern over Criminalization of HIV Transmission,” UNAIDS,  06 November 2007., accessed 28 October 2008, http://www.unaids.org/
[5] Ibid.
[6] Policy Brief, “Criminalization of HIV Transmission,” UNAIDS,  7 November 2008., accessed 28 October 2008m http://64.233.169.104/
[7] “Advocates Oppose Ugandan Bill.” 

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