By Joyce Namutebi
Uganda Human Rights Commission has opposed mandatory HIV testing as envisaged in the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill that is before Parliament.
The commission also rejected a provision on criminalization of attempted and intentional transmission of the virus as well as a provision that permits medical practitioners to disclose HIV positive test results to a sexual partner without consent of the tested person.
These and other views were presented to the joint meeting of the committee of health and the committee on HIV/AIDS by Commissioner Katebarirwe Amooti, who represented the chairperson, Medi Kagwa.
The Bill provides for routine HIV testing of victims of sexual offences, pregnant women and their partners, but the commission is of the view that the provision does not specifically state as to whether their consent is necessary, suggesting that testing would be mandatory.
The Bill also provides for testing of those convicted of drug abuse, those charged with sexual offences and those convicted of offences involving prostitution.
"International standards require HIV/AIDS testing to be confidential, accompanied by counseling and to be conducted with voluntary and informed consent. Mandatory testing without consent, counseling and confidentiality violate the right to equality and non-discrimination and could harm the victims of sexual crimes and expose women to risk of domestic violence and abandonment," Amooti said.
He added that mandatory testing of drug users and sex workers will discourage them from seeking treatment and care. UHRC, he said, recommends that the Bill be amended to remove provisions relating to mandatory HIV testing.
The Bill permits a medical practitioner to notify the sexual partner of a person who tests HIV positive where he or she reasonably believes that the HIV positive person poses a risk of HIV transmission to his or her partner and the HIV positive person has been given reasonable opportunity to inform his or her partner(s) of his or her positive status and fails.
This provision, according to UHRC, does not provide for counseling, among others. "Mandatory disclosure obligations run the risk of deterring people especially women from getting tested. Where due caution is not exercised, informing a woman's partner of her HIV status may expose her to the risk of violence, eviction, disinheritance, loss of their children and other severe abuses." The commission recommended that this provision on disclosure be deleted.
The commission is also of the view that criminalizing of HIV transmission is generally regarded as an ineffective and counter- productive approach to combating HIV/AIDS and recommended that criminalization be limited to cases of intentional transmission which results in actual transmission of the disease.
Amooti also pointed out that the Bill does not provide for access to legal aid services for persons living with HIV/AIDS, which is fundamental in the promotion and protection of the rights of persons living with the disease.
The MPs said they would study the proposals further and reach consensus with UHRC.