By Mary Karugaba
MPs reviewing the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill 2009 have opposed a clause that proposes compensation of health workers who contract the disease in the course of duty.
Discussing the Bill on Wednesday, the MPs on HIV/AIDS Committee concurred with the Ministry of Health’s proposal to drop the compensation idea on ground that it would be too costly for Government.
The MPs composed of mainly doctors argued that rather than compensation, officials should be given free Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) treatment.
PEP involves taking anti-HIV medications as soon as possible after you may have been exposed to HIV to try to reduce the chance of becoming HIV positive. These medications keep HIV from spreading throughout your body.
To be effective, PEP must begin as soon as possible, but always within 72 hours of exposure, before the virus has time to make too many copies of itself in your body. PEP consists of 2-3 antiretroviral medications and should be taken for 28 days.
Dr. Medard Bitekyerezo, argued that maintaining the compensation clause would hamper the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients by institutions for fear of compensating the infected health officials.
He further argued that it would be difficult to compensate some health workers who may contract the disease through negligence.
He wondered why compensation was only tagged to HIV/AIDS and leave out the other diseases like Hepatitis B.
“As doctors, we know it is a challenge to enforce this. Some health workers come on duty when they are drunk and do not take precautionary measures. In the process, he pierces himself and then contracts the disease, how much will you compensate him? Who is to blame in that case?” he asked.
He was supported by Dr. Patrick Mutono who argued that with compensation clause, the Ministry of Health would be bombarded with claims and may not get the money.
But Dr. Kenneth Omona however urged members to first consult other laws that deal with compensation at work places.
“It is selfish to think that compensation will affect our business. We should legislate and not make laws that benefit or affect our businesses,” he warned.
The Private members Bill proposes that a person working in institutions where there’s significant risk of occupational exposure to HIV shall be provided free treatment and compensation in case he contracts the disease during the course of duty.
The objective of the HIV Prevention Bill is to provide for legal a framework that is geared towards the prevention and control of HIV, reducing the transmission of HIV, providing HIV testing and counseling services and creating Government obligation towards HIV management.
The Bill also seeks to make provisions for protection of the rights of persons living with HIV, creating offences for willful and intentional transmission of the disease and to provide for related matters.
During the meeting, the MPs maintained most of the clauses that relate to discrimination. The Bill states that no qualified person can be denied employment, be transferred or sacked on the ground of his or her HIV status.
However, this does not apply when the employer can prove that the worker is incapable of performing the work because of his or her health condition.
Similarly, under the Bill, no students can be denied admission in schools, punished, expelled or discriminated against because of their status.
In addition, the Bill stipulates that HIV-positive people cannot be refused entry into Uganda or deported from the country.
They can also not be denied the right to seek an elective or other public office.