The Ugandan Parliament has passed the HIV/Aids control and prevention Bill 2010, which emphasizes treatment, care as well as criminalization.
The bill now awaits President Yoweri Museveni to ascent to it before it becomes law. The Bill seeks to provide a legal framework geared towards the prevention and control of HIV, reducing transmission of HIV, providing HIV testing and counseling services.
It also seeks to create government obligations towards HIV management, making provision for the protection of the rights of people living with HIV and states offences for willful and intentional transmission of HIV. Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the Health Minister welcomed the passing of the Bill saying despite the fact that some clauses stirred a lot of objections, the Bill means well.
He however, notes that provision that criminalizes HIV does not help in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The approval of Clause 39 and 41 raised protests amongst HIV/Aids activists. Clause 39 states that a person who attempts to transmit HIV to another person commits a felony and shall on conviction be liable to pay 240,000 shs or imprisonment for not more than five years. Clause 41 (1) states that a person who willfully and intentionally transmits HIV to another person commits an offence and on conviction shall be liable to 4.8 million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not more than ten years or both.
Clause 41 (2) states that a person shall not be convicted of an offence under one if the person was aware of the HIV status of the accused and the risk of infection and he or she voluntarily accepted the risk. One shall also not be liable for prosecution if that alleged transmission was through sexual intercourse and protective measures were used during penetration. Clause 14 of the Bill also subjects victims of a sexual offence, pregnant women and their partners to routine HIV test for purposes of prevention of HIV transmission.
Kenneth Omona, the health committee chairperson says some of the clauses in the bill are not agreeable with International guidelines of the control, management and prevention of HIV and human rights. The guideline states in part that no country will legislate to criminalize attempt or intentional transmission of HIV, but in circumstances where there are those isolated cases, those countries should use existing laws in which the application against those allegations. It adds that injuries or damages suffered should be clearly and legally established to attract the penalties prescribed.
Omona quotes chapter 120 section 171 of the Penal code Act, which prescribes a penalty for any person who causes transmission or infection of another person with a disease that is dangerous to life which includes HIV among others. The offence attracts a penalty of 7 years in prison. Omona says the Penal Code covers all diseases and thus isolating HIV as one disease tantamounts to discrimination and adding stigma to HIV.
The health committee chairperson is hopeful that the bodies such as Ministry of Health, the Uganda Aids Control Programme and the Uganda Aids Commission that have been against the Bill will advise the President before ascents to it into law. Shortly before the bill was passed the committee set up by the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to resolve the issue on the management of the HIV/AIDS Trust Fund presented its recommendations. Clause 4 of the Bill seeks to set up a fund for an HIV Trust Fund managed by the Ministry of Health whose monies shall be submitted on a quarterly basis.
According to the Uganda Aids Commission up to 1.6 million Ugandans are currently infected with HIV. Of this 577,000 patients were on anti-retroviral therapy as of 30th October 2013. This is out of 1.3 million who are eligible for anti-retroviral treatment under the latest guidelines from WHO. The Guidelines stipulate that a patient starts on treatment when their CD4 cell count falls below 500.
Dr Vinand Nantulya, the head of the Uganda Aids Commission says if the current trend of new infections is not stopped, the number of Ugandans infected with HIV will rise to 2 million by 2018.
This is with an estimated 1.865 million requiring to be put on anti-retroviral treatment.