Uganda passes bill criminalizing HIV transmission

By Halima Athumani, Wednesday, May 14, 2014

KAMPALA – Following months of debate, the Ugandan parliament on Tuesday passed a bill criminalizing the intentional transmission of the virus that causes AIDS.

The bill, which calls for a ten-year jail term and fines of up to $1905 for anyone convicted of intentionally transmitting HIV to another person, has raised concerns that the legislation will be used to stigmatize people with HIV.

"Anything that criminalizes HIV… does not help us in our fight against HIV/AIDS," Health Minister Ruhakana Rugunda told Anadolu Agency.

He added, however, that the bill "means well, and we know that those against criminalization also mean well."

Rugunda stressed that it was almost impossible to reach consensus when it came to issues related to HIV.

"So we shall be able to work out a modality that will ensure delivery of services to our people who are in need of HIV/AIDS preventive and treatment services," he added.

Since it was first introduced in 2010, the bill has caused controversy in Uganda, which has seen a rise in HIV/AIDS prevalence in recent years.

The bill, however, states that a person shall not be convicted if he or she was aware of the HIV status of the accused and the risk of infection and voluntarily accepted the risk.

The measure also states that no one shall be liable for prosecution if the alleged transmission came about through sexual intercourse and protective measures were used.

Dr. Vinand Nantulya, head of the Uganda AIDS Commission, criticized the passage of the bill.

"If the current trend of new infections isn't stopped, the number of Ugandans infected with HIV will rise to 2 million by 2018," he said.

"This is with an estimated 1.865 million requiring anti-retroviral treatment," he added.

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