Lawmakers in Uganda are set to pass a bill criminalizing the intentional transmission of the virus that causes AIDS, the latest measure by a government trying to stem the growing number of new infections in this East African country but one which activists fear will be used to further stigmatize people with HIV.
Lawmaker Betty Amongi, who sits on the health committee of Uganda's parliament, said Friday that the measure is justified in order to deter "those who are likely to intentionally transmit HIV."
"As a lawmaker my role is to prevent new HIV infections," she said. "My plea to people living with HIV is that they should not be so selfish."
The measure sets a 10-year jail term for anyone convicted of "wilfully or intentionally transmitting HIV."
Uganda is seeing a rise in the HIV rate after a period of relative stability, a cause for concern among officials and activists who in the 1990s presided over a big decline in new infections. According to the most recent survey by Uganda's Ministry of Health, 7.3 percent of the Ugandan population has HIV, up from about 6 percent a decade ago.
Although the new bill seeks to bar discrimination on the basis of HIV status, some civic groups note that criminalizing HIV transmission may lead to the stigmatization of people living with HIV or AIDS.
Dorah Kiconco, a Ugandan lawyer who runs a watchdog group called the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS, said such a measure might be risky in a country where many HIV-positive people are believed to be unaware of their status.
She said she opposes the measure because it might discourage people from testing for HIV and could be used to justify discrimination against those living with HIV.
"The issue is that it's going to be more harmful than useful. It's going to drive us so far into discrimination, stigmatization," she said.
At least 60 countries criminalize the transmission of HIV or the failure to disclose one's HIV status to sex partners, according to AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy group that opposes the criminalization of HIV transmission.