A bill has been tabled in Uganda’s parliament to make HIV testing mandatory for pregnant women, their partners and victims and perpetrators of sexual assaults.
Human rights groups have raised concerns that it is punitive, discriminatory and will allow medical professionals to disclose peoples’ HIV status to others.
It will discourage voluntary HIV testing, instead imposing it on a number of groups. These include pregnant women, their partners, suspected perpetrators and victims of sexual offences, drug users and prostitutes.
While some reports suggested that “willful” HIV transmission would result in the death penalty, this provision is not in the most recent version of the bill.
It does not mention homosexuality at all. Another Ugandan bill, the anti-homosexuality bill, proposes the death penalty for people who have gay sex while infected with HIV. However, this bill marks the difference between intentional and unintentional transmission.
HIV prevalence has increased in Uganda in recent years, with over a million people living with HIV and more than 100,000 newly infected each year. It is estimated that 80 per cent of those living with HIV in Uganda are unaware of their HIV status.
Human Rights Watch said the provisions in the bill to forcibly test people violated rights and would not lower infection rates.
Joe Amon, health and human rights director at HRW, said: “The bill contains measures that have been proven ineffective against the AIDS epidemic and that violate the rights of people living with HIV.
“The HIV epidemic in Uganda is getting worse, and this bill is another example of misguided, ideological approaches and lack of leadership.”
Mr Amon added: “Like the anti-homosexuality bill, the HIV/AIDS bill tramples on rights and encourages stigma and intolerance. The international community and Ugandan civil society have been vocal and clear about the problems in the bill. It is time for Uganda’s parliament to listen and amend these damaging provisions.”
Uganda’s government has recently received international criticism for a proposed anti-homosexuality law mandating the death penalty for individuals living with HIV who engage in gay sex, regardless of the use of HIV prevention. It would also require others to report instances of gay sex to authorities within 24 hours.
However, government officials have suggested it is unlikely to come before parliament before 2011 and observers say this may be a stalling tactic as the country is due to go to the polls in the next year.