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NGOs petition Mseveni over Aids prevention Actn

Filed under: International News |
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His Excellency Yoweri. K. Museveni

The President

Office of the President

Kampala

Uganda

 

21 May 2014

 

RE: Civil Society Organisations Call on the President of the Republic of Uganda to Refuse to Sign Controversial Ugandan HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2014

 

The Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS, AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, International Community of Women living with HIV Global, Global Network of People living with HIV and the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, along with the under-signed civil society organisations, working to advance health and human rights in Africa and the world, including members of the Ugandan HIV Bill Coalition, call on you to show leadership by refusing to sign the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2014, passed by Parliament on 13 May 2014, into law in its current form and referring it back to parliament for review.

While we commend Your Excellency and the Government of the Republic of Uganda for showing political leadership in attempting to reduce the rates of HIV transmission and increasing domestic funding for HIV, we are concerned by the many problematic provisions in this bill, which along with the recently enacted Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 will negate the gains made by Uganda over the past three decades.

The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2014, incorporates provisions which criminalise ‘attempted’ and ‘wilful’ transmission of HIV with a five year imprisonment term, provide for the mandatory testing of   pregnant women and permit healthcare workers to forgo confidentiality and to unilaterally disclose a patient’s positive status to an “at-risk” partner or household member.

Not only do these provisions violate the rights to equality, autonomy, bodily integrity and privacy guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda but they also go against evidence based effective rights-based approaches to HIV, as embodied in the East African Community HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Act of 2012.

From a public health perspective the implementation of these provisions increases the risk of an escalation in the recent surge in the number of new HIV infections, which over the past 5 years have increased from 6.4 to 7.3%. The implementation of the provisions of this Act will not only place a heavy burden on the already burdened state, but will place an onerous task on Uganda’s judiciary which will be obliged to adjudicate these matters.

Evidence has shown that the promulgation of laws that criminalise HIV exposure, transmission and non-disclosure is not an effective solution to addressing the HIV epidemic, as these laws have not proven to prevent new HIV infections or to increase safer sex. On the contrary, laws which criminalise HIV raise serious human rights and public health challenges and present a further barrier to the testing, treatment and anti-stigma efforts of the Ugandan HIV response, as people living with and at higher risk of HIV will shy away from healthcare facilities for a fear of prosecution.

 

Also of concern is that laws that criminalise HIV transmission and exposure have been found to disproportionally affect already marginalized groups, including women, who are often unable to enforce safer sex due to gender inequality, are often the first to know their status through antenatal care and are blamed for bringing HIV home. They are often unable to disclose due to fear of physical harm and eviction due to high levels of gender-based violence and inequality in most African communities.

 

Therefore, we call on Your Excellency to:

 

  1. Decline to assent to the Act in its current form and to refer it back to Parliament for review of the problematic provisions (amongst others Clause 39 on attempted Transmission, clause 41 on Intentional Transmission and Clause 21e on Exceptions to Confidentially) using the East African Community HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Act of 2012 as a standard;
  2. Call for the effective enforcement of existing criminal or public health legislation in the rare cases where there is clear evidence of wilful transmission;
  3. Address the root causes that drive the demand for criminalisation such as promoting the equal status of women, protecting women against violence and addressing cultural practices that render women more vulnerable to HIV;
  4. Call for the implementation of a rights-based response to HIV, including implementing the recommendations of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law; and
  5. Facilitate dialogue between members of parliament, people living with and at higher risk of HIV, researchers, civil society organisations responding to HIV and other stakeholders on this Act.

 

The Republic of Uganda, which has been heralded as being one of the first African countries to provide widespread access to prevention, treatment and care in the early years of the epidemic, cannot afford to risk backsliding now.

 

Signed:

 

  1. AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA)
  2. Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET)
  3. Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum  (HRAPF)

 

Kind Regards,

Sirka Amaambo
Communications Officer
AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA)
53 Mont Blanc Street
Windhoek
Namibia

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