By John Agaba
KAMPALA - Do we really need legislation on HIV/Aids?
This was the argument stakeholders engaged in during a UGANET, Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/Aids function at Hotel Triangle in Kampala on Wednesday.
In parliament, the HIV/AIDS and Control Bill, 2010 is now in its final stages.
However, various stakeholders expressed concern over whether the bill passed into law would help trim the about 140,000 new HIV infections in the country.
Proof that it works
Adams Hasiyo, the prisons rehabilitation officer, said Uganda needs a holistic approach in the fight against HIV, and not necessarily zeroing on one aspect like formulating a law on HIV.
“The argument is that some people living with HIV are transmitting the virus knowingly and they should be punished. However, this alone is not enough,” he said.
Several speakers said that the country needs to focus on interventions that have been proved to work than bringing back stigma, which the legislation is feared to come with.
Dora Musinguzi, UGANET’s executive director, said that if the bill is passed in its current state it would do more harm than good.
She expressed her dissatisfaction with the clause of mandatory HIV testing.
According to the bill, mandatory testing is for specific categories of people, people engaged in prostitution, drug abusers, and people convicted of sexual offences.
Musinguzi, however, said that mandatory testing, be it for drug abusers or prostitutes, wasn’t the best way of addressing the epidemic.
“These people are already stigmatized. Now if you make it mandatory for them to get tested because they will be given a bigger punishment when [results turn out] positive, they will run away and start transmitting the virus.”
The director was also against the clause of disclosing one’s status to a third party and the criminalization of intentional or attempted transmission of the virus.
Daily figure at 356
However, Beatrice Anywar, member of the HIV parliamentary committee and Kitgum Woman MP, said the piece of legislation was not intended to harass people into testing.
She said: “We need to find a way of testing everyone so if they are positive they can be treated.”
On Sunday December 1, Uganda will join the rest of the world to commemorate the World Aids Day. The celebrations will be held in Mbarara district under the theme: Re-engaging Communities for Effective HIV Prevention.
HIV prevalence in Uganda stands at 7.3% and everyday about 356 Ugandans contract the virus.
‘Condoms are expensive’
A survey on the needs assessment on monitoring and implementation of HIV laws indicated that the high incidences in the country were not necessarily a result of more people engaging in risky behavior.
Mariam Akiror, presenting the results of the survey, said, compared to years back, today fewer men and women are using condoms.
“People need condoms, they need to purchase them but they are not available at the price they can afford.”
She said that the fight against HIV needs a holistic approach and government needs to emphasize interventions like elimination of mother-to-child transmissions, treating everyone diagnosed with HIV, and safe male circumcision.
Beatrice Were, a passionate AIDS activist, said: “We need the human rights approach in fighting HIV, not a punitive style that will send people away from even accessing care.
“Already there is a lot of stigma against people living with HIV.”