Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill this week criminalizing “attempted or intentional” HIV transmission. While deliberately transmitting HIV is illegal in the United States too, public health activists everywhere say this is a dangerous tactic in a place with such a widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Under the new law, “intentional transmission” merits a fine and a ten-year prison sentence, while “attempted transmission” results in a five-year sentence.
“Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed time and again how stigma, discrimination, and fear – and the misguided policies that stem from them – further fuel the epidemic by deterring those most in need from accessing lifesaving HIV prevention, treatment, and care services,” U.S. Global AIDS coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx said. “I join with the many health practitioners, HIV/AIDS and human rights activists, multilateral institutions, and individuals everywhere – in Uganda and around the world – in calling for the people and the Government of Uganda to reject this regressive bill.”
The provisions criminalizing HIV transmission resemble some provisions that are on the books in some U.S. states, but there has been a move in recent years to repeal them. Worldwide we’ve seen that “criminalization of HIV doesn’t work. It drives people away from services and fuels discrimination and fear,” said Asia Russell, an advocate with the U.S. organization Health Gap who is based in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
Kikonyongo Kivumbi of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association said in a phone interview, “It seems that Uganda is not committed to scaling down this pandemic — Uganda has chosen to moralize.”
The comments on this article offer some crucial context explaining more about why this is not (or is?) the right solution to a gruesome problem. Should it be illegal to intentionally give someone HIV? Sure. But dealing with HIV in a purely punitive way, without devoting as many resources to education and prevention, only serves to further stigmatize people who are HIV-positive and shame them out of seeking treatment or health information.
All that said, public health and HIV/AIDS are not my expertise by any means, so I’m eager to hear from those of who you have a lot of knowledge about this stuff. Thoughts?