In arguably the first case of its kind in the country, Rosemary Namubiru, a nurse accused of negligently trying to infect a two-year old child with HIV/Aids, is expected to know her fate tomorrow. Buganda road Chief Magistrate Olive Kazaarwe set May 15 as judgment day, following the trial that ended last month.
Namubiru is accused of injecting the child using the same needle that had pricked her, despite knowing she was HIV-positive. The baby was, however, put on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PEPs) to prevent HIV infection and has since tested negative.
Namubiru was arrested soon after the incident in January this year, and charged with criminal negligence. Namubiru has since been in prison, after her bail application was denied.
Prosecution alleged that Namubiru, while on duty at Victoria Medical Centre on Lumumba avenue in Kampala on January 7, aware that she was HIV-positive, pricked her index finger and then used the same contaminated cannula to prick the vein of a two-year-old baby, an act that exposed the baby to the risk of contracting HIV/Aids.
Following her trial, the magistrate will tomorrow convict or acquit Namubiru. Should the court find her guilty, Namubiru faces a maximum sentence of seven years in jail as provided for in the Penal Code Act.
During the relatively speedy trial, prosecution was represented by state attorney Lillian Omara, while the defence team was led by Ladilus Rwakafuzi, David Kabanda and Bill Mawami.
Prosecution presented eight witnesses, including the baby’s mother, police and some of Namubiru’s colleagues at work, who pinned the accused on negligence. In his testimony, Dr Richard Sekitoleko of the department of Infectious Diseases at Mulago hospital said that after Namubiru had pricked her finger, she should have removed the syringe and gloves she was using and washed her hands before injecting the patient.
Sekitoleko told court that the risk of infection in such cases depends on the amount of blood taken into the syringe, and whether or not the health worker was on protective treatment.
Another witness, Gertrude Kyomugisha, a senior nurse and supervisor at Victoria Medical Centre, said Namubiru told the health facility’s administration that she panicked because the little boy was crying so much, hence accidentally pricking her finger with the cannula, which she later on used to prick the child’s vein.
Pressed by prosecution to state whether Namubiru was negligent, she said as atrained medical personnel, she ought to have known that once a cannula is contaminated, it should have been replaced with a fresh one.
Richard Wekoye, an assistant inspector of police at Wandegeya police station, told court how he searched Namubiru’s home and found empty tins of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).
“We recovered two empty tins of ARVs and the suspect managed to sign the search certificate together with her daughter as witnesses to this search,” Wekoyesaid.
Prima facie case
After the prosecution had produced eight witnesses, the court early April ruled that a prima facie case had been made against Namubiru and, therefore, she had to defend herself.
Rwakafuzi kicked off the nurse’s defence by arguing that the accused was detained by police beyond the 48 hours provided for in the constitution. Apart from the accused herself, the defence didn’t call any other witness.
In her defence, Namubiru told court that she did not intend to inject the baby with her blood. She pleaded that it was an accident. She further told court that she was a senior nurse of more than 30 years’ experience.
Namubiru also told court of the emotional suffering visited on her by the police and media following her arrest. She said by parading her before journalists, the police’s intention was to depict her as a criminal. She said she was asked funny, inhumane and degrading questions.
Namubiru accused an investigations officer (Enid Namungu) of abusing her every morning during the parade at Wandegeya. During the course of the trial, Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union came out in support of their own.
The association instead challenged government to address the issues that lead to negligence, such as poor pay and understaffing that makes them work overtime. The nurses pointed out that since the incident came to light, patients had started to distrust them.