HRW to Uganda: Remove discriminatory provisions from HIV/AIDS bill

Dar es Salaam- Tanzania (PANA) -- Uganda’s parliament should amend a proposed law on HIV/AIDS to remove punitive and discriminatory provisions and to ensure that the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS are protected, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday, after the controversial bill was introduced.
"The bill contains measures that have been proven ineffective against the AIDS epidemic and that violates the rights of people living with HIV," said Joe Amon, Health and Human Rights director at HRW.
PANA reports that the HIV epidemic in Uganda is getting worse, and that the bill is another example of misguided, ideological approaches and lack of leadership.
HIV prevalence has increased in Uganda in recent years, with over a million people living with HIV and more than 100,000 newly infected each year.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of those living with HIV in Uganda are unaware of their HIV status.
The 2010 HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill was introduced in parliament on 19 May following months of debate about provisions that mandate HIV testing, force disclosure of HIV status, and criminalize behaviour that might result in transmission among those who know they are HIV-positive.
As currently written, the bill codifies discredited approaches to the AIDS epidemic and contains dangerously vague criminal provisions, HRW argued.
According to HRW, the bill will discourage voluntary HIV testing, while making testing mandatory for pregnant women, their partners, suspected perpetrators and victims of sexual offences, drug users, and prostitutes, in violation of fundamental principles of consent.
The bill also allows medical practitioners to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others, breaching confidentiality standards.
These provisions could potentially endanger those who are infected by exposing them to stigma, discrimination, and physical violence.
HRW and 50 Ugandan and international organisations commented on an earlier draft of the bill and released a 10-page analysis of it in November 2009.
UNAIDS also released a 23-page critique of the bill, and a coalition of Ugandan civil society groups published a joint position statement that criticised many provisions of the draft bill.
Since then, the law was partially improved by the removal of criminal penalty for the transmission of HIV from mother to child through breastfeeding.
Reflecting these changes, HRW released an updated analysis of the bill this month.
The Ugandan government has recently received international criticism for a proposed “anti-homosexuality” law mandating the death penalty for individuals living with HIV who engage in homosexual sex, regardless of the use of HIV prevention, and including a requirement that individuals report suspected homosexuals to the government within 24 hours.
One consequence of the law will be to require all HIV testing programmes in the country to amend their pre-test counselling to inform individuals of the law and its potential consequences, HRW said.
Those being tested would need to understand that the consequences of a positive test result could include disclosure of their HIV status without their consent by medical personnel and criminal liability for failure to adopt HIV prevention measures.
International research projects in Uganda that conduct HIV testing may also have to modify and resubmit their protocols to ethical review boards, HRW added.

20 may 2010 14:41:00

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