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New Vision
Uganda: Activists Reject Mandatory HIV Tests

<p>Joyce Namutebi</p>

July 18, 2013

Civil society organisations have opposed a proposal in the HIV Prevention and Control Bill providing for mandatory testing of pregnant women and others.

The proposal of the coalition of civil society organisations, led by the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS, was presented during a dialogue on the Bill with members of the Uganda Parliamentary Women Association at Protea Hotel in Kampala yesterday.

The meeting aimed at assisting the legislators in coming up with a common position on the Bill to be forwarded to the committee on HIV/AIDS under whose docket the Bill falls for onward submission to Parliament for approval.

The civil society organisations and activists contended that international standards require HIV/AIDS testing to be confidential accompanied by counselling and to be conducted with voluntary and informed consent.

They further argued that mandatory testing of drug users and workers would discourage them from seeking treatment and care.

The civil society organisations are also against a provision that allows a medical practitioner to disclose HIV test results without the consent of the affected person.

"Mandatory disclosure obligations run the risk of deterring people, especially women, from getting tested," they stated, arguing that where due caution is not exercised, informing a woman's partner of her HIV status may expose her to the risk of violence, eviction, disinheritance and severe abuses.

Noreen Kaleeba, the founder of The AIDS Support Organisation, who lost her husband to AIDS in the early years of the disease, said: "We must invest in counselling and voluntary testing. No mandatory testing will deliver us." She stressed that the Bill is needed because it will strengthen the policy.

"We do need a law, but not one that has specific punitive elements that will take us backwards," Kaleeba said.

The MPs agreed to do further consultations on the Bill and to study the law enacted by the East African Community assembly on the subject.

The Bill has also been heavily criticised by international human rights organisations.