Uganda’s president is contemplating signing a law that would criminalize the deliberate transmission of HIV. The law would also require pregnant women to get tested for the virus and allow health officials to disclose the HIV status of certain individuals in order to protect potential sexual partners.

The bill was passed in the Ugandan Parliament in March and is awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni to become law. However, the proposal has been met with considerable criticism, as many believe the initiative will exacerbate Ugandan HIV prevalence.

“Uganda has taken a giant leap backwards in the struggle against HIV,” Dr. Noreen Kaleeba, executive of the Aids Support Organization, decried in a statement last month.

Critics like Dr. Kaleeba believe the pending law will discourage citizens from being tested in order to skirt any possible criminal liability, and many fear the measure will disproportionately impact Ugandan women. In addition, the text appears to be an abusive invasion of privacy that will intensify the already paralyzing stigmatization suffered by those carrying the virus.

Only 33 percent of the Ugandan population has been tested for HIV. In addition, recent undercover reporting conducted by BBC journalists indicates that many Ugandans are going as far as to procure fake HIV negative tests results in order to mislead employers and avoid stigmatization.

However, most Ugandan politicians disagree with critic’s assessments of this new law, citing the recent increase in HIV infections — a disconcerting trend that suggests many citizens are transmitting the virus willfully. Today, 1.5 million Ugandans are infected.

“The law is not unfairly targeting anybody, but rather it is addressing somebody who has tested for HIV and knows his or her status and, out of malice, intentionally wants to infect others,” stated Chris Baryomunsi, a respected member of Ugandan Parliament.

Despite significant opposition to thwart the bill’s passage, the measure appears destined to pass, as the opposition has voiced recent discouragement over an inability to engage the global community. However, popular protest has yielded positive results in the past, as the President vetoed a radical anti-gay bill earlier this year after significant international pressure demanded Museveni squash the hateful and violent legislation.

President Museveni is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

– Sam Preston

Sources: All Africa, BBC News, The Globe and Mail
Photo: Cloud Front