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HIV Prevention and Control Act by the Ugandan Parliament

05/14/2014 06:47 PM EDT

International Health Issues: Statement from Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, on the Passage of the HIV Prevention and Control Act by the Ugandan Parliament

I am deeply concerned by yesterday’s passage of the HIV Prevention and Control Act by the Ugandan Parliament. From all reports, among the legislation's most troubling provisions is the criminalization of “attempted transmission of HIV” and “intentional transmission of HIV” with penalties of up to ten years imprisonment. In addition, the bill makes HIV testing mandatory for pregnant women, their partners, and in cases of rape and allows for disclosure of a person's HIV status under a court order without consent.

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. We have also learned from experience that creating programs that respect and uphold the dignity of every human being and provide care to all who need it not only increases the numbers of people who access HIV services but also decreases the numbers of new HIV infection. The cause and effect are clear.

We are at a critical juncture in the fight against HIV/AIDS. After three decades of hard won progress against the disease the dream of an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp. The good news is that we know what works. We have developed and implemented effective HIV prevention programs and are providing lifesaving treatment to millions of people in Uganda and around the world. The bad news is that a return to antiquated, discriminatory, and non-science based approaches to preventing and controlling the epidemic will quickly erode all the hard won gains we have made.

Ironically, Uganda was one of the first countries in Africa to break the silence on HIV/AIDS. The leadership of President Museveni, the Ugandan Parliament, and the extraordinary community response across the country was the exemplar of best public health practice. These efforts were also grounded in compassion, social justice, and access for all. The HIV bill passed yesterday, alongside the recently enacted Anti-Homosexuality Act, threaten to undermine that legacy of leadership and drive an already expanding epidemic in the country.

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. Sound public health, an effective HIV/AIDS response, and the protection of fundamental human rights demand it – and the lives of millions of Ugandans are at stake.

ENDS

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