Even after the presidential assent, health rights civil society organisations want amendments to the contentious provisions in the 2014 HIV Prevention and Control Act.
The law has been publicly criticised by officials leading HIV response in the country such as the Aids Control Programme and Uganda Aids Commission. They say the law will take the country’s HIV/Aids campaign in the wrong direction. The CSOs are wary of several provisions that breach the right to confidentiality such as Clause 18, which makes HIV testing for pregnant women and their partners mandatory and allows medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without consent.
“Because of this, we are likely to see people, especially pregnant mothers, failing to turn up for testing. Thus, we shall have more babies born with HIV. How can we achieve an Aids-free generation when Uganda adopts such a law?” Lillian Mworeko from the International Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids told journalists at Fairway hotel on Wednesday.
Mworeko said the absence of specific mention of consent suggested that testing would actually be implemented as mandatory. The health rights groups further argued that permitting disclosure of HIV status without consent contravened international human rights standards, which require states to ensure the confidentiality of medical information.
The international guidelines on HIV/Aids and human rights recommend voluntary partner notification and set a narrow set of circumstances under which health care provider disclosure is permissible.
“Forced disclosure to male sexual partners could expose women to violence and other abuses,” Prof Vinand Nantulya, the chairman of UAC, told The Observer.
The act also criminalises HIV transmission, attempted transmission and behaviour which might result in transmission by those who know their HIV status. Under Clause 43, ‘a person who willfully and intentionally transmits HIV to another person commits an offence, and on conviction shall be liable to a fine of not more than one hundred and twenty currency points or imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years or both.’
“It is difficult, if not impossible, to establish in court who between two partners was infected first or who caused transmission, limiting the feasibility of prosecution,” said Stella Kentutsi, the executive director of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU).
Kentutsi added that because transmission must be willful and intentional, criminalisation of transmission could act as a deterrent for individuals to seek testing, making ignorance of one’s status an effective defence. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids, there were about 1.5 million people living with HIV in Uganda by the end of 2012, some 190,000 of them children.
Prof Nantulya says the legal experts, led by the attorney general, should have done sufficient research outside Parliament to consider other voices opposed to the law’s contents.
“Those that the president entrusted with the responsibility of guiding him did him a disservice because some of the provisions therein are vague such as ‘intentional or attempted transmission’,” he said.
The act was passed by Parliament on May 13, 2014 and signed by the president July 31.