By Moses Mulondo & Cyprian Musoke
Parliament has passed several clauses in the controversial HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, including one which permits medical workers to reveal the status of HIV-positive people without their consent in circumstances where other people's lives are endangered.
Clause 21 permits disclosure of someone's status without his/her consent when in the opinion of the medical practitioner, the HIV-positive person poses a clear and present danger to a person with whom he or she is in close and continuous contact including but not limited to a sexual partner.
The other circumstance is when a medical practitioner or other qualified officer who carried out an HIV test reasonably believes that the HIV-positive person poses a risk of HIV transmission to the partner and has been given reasonable opportunity to inform their partners of their status but has failed to do so.
The House was unable to pass the clause on Tuesday after some MPs including the committee chairperson Dr. Kenneth Omona argued the provision can easily be abused and result into violating the privacy and confidentiality rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Iganga woman MP Olivia Kwagala gave an example of a white lady she saved by revealing to her the HIV status of a man she was dating although that man had asked her not to reveal it to her after both had gone for testing.
Parliament also passed clause 14 which provides for routine HIV testing for the pregnant women and their partners despite attempts by several MPs to block it.
One of these MPs, Budadiri West MP, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, had argued that such a provision would compel many men to deny responsibility for the pregnancies.
"Several reports have shown that majority of the men do not want to go with their wives for testing and the women resort to hiring boda boda men to act as their husbands. If we pass this clause, it will worsen the situation," Mafabi argued.
State minister for primary health care Sarah Opendi admitted that the reports talked about by Mafabi were true but it was better to pass the provision to save lives.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga advised the MPs that it was better to pass that clause. I think it is important that we pass the law and then advocate for responsible parenthood," Kadaga advised.
Attempts by the Oyam woman MP Betty Amongi to recommit clause 14 so that pregnant women are not required to reveal their status to their husbands were futile.
The MPs also had a standoff on clause 13 which provides that a person suspected of sexual offence is subjected to HIV testing. Debate on this was deferred.
After a fiery debate, parliament also passed clause 19 of the Bill which makes it mandatory to the parents to reveal their HIV status to their children.
As the debate was going, several HIV/AIDS activists from various NGOs were seen in the gallery and later in the corridors of parliament persuading MPs not to pass certain clauses in the Bill.
The activists argue that some of the provisions of the Bill will deter the fight against the epidemic, by preventing people who fear their status disclosed to their spouses from going for testing.
The MPs also overwhelmingly supported the passing of clause 28, which provides for establishment of the HIV/AIDS Trust Fund. The decision of whether to put the fund under Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) or the ministry of health was however deferred to today (Thursday).
Some MPs had objected putting the money in the hands of the health ministry citing the mismanagement of the global fund. But Busiro North MP Prof. Gilbert Bukenya explained that since the UAC mandate was limited, the health ministry which also handles treatment programs should manage the Fund.