In response to a resurgence of HIV infections – from 18.5 percent in 1992 to 5 percent in 2000 and back up to 7.3 percent in 2014 – Uganda has made it illegal to “willfully and intentionally” transmit the virus. The new law also makes it legal for medical staff to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without consent.
Rights activists contend that the law would deter voluntary testing and further stigmatize HIV infection.
“Evidence from the Ugandan Ministry of Health shows clearly – criminalization of HIV doesn’t work,” says Asia Russell, Uganda-based director of international policy at Health GAP, an HIV advocacy group. “It drives people away from services and fuels discrimination and fear.”
Activists also argue the new law will be difficult to enforce because 1) it can be hard to determine who infected whom and 2) it doesn’t explicitly say what constitutes “will and intentional” transmission, or whether someone who had sex without knowing his status or used barrier protection that didn’t work are exempt.
Russell and her group will petition President Yoweri Museveni to not sign the bill into law unless parliament removes the criminalization provision.
“This HIV bill is yet another step backward in the fight against AIDS in Uganda,” says Maria Burnett, senior African researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It is founded on stigma and discrimination and based on approaches that have been condemned by international health agencies as ineffective.”