Thursday, May 21, 2009

Uganda's parliament is debating an HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill that would protect HIV-positive people from discrimination


UGANDA: Murder highlights need for protective legislation

Photo: Charles Akena/IRIN
This woman was chased from her home when she revealed she was HIV-positive
GULU, 21 May 2009 (PlusNews) - On the night of 13 May, in the northern Ugandan district of Gulu, Christine Atuk was woken by piercing screams coming from the neighbouring hut where her daughter was sleeping. "I peeped through the window and saw a huge ball of fire burning her hut," she recalled.

"I got out of my hut and saw one of the attackers hacking my daughter with a machete; they were four in number. I pleaded with the attackers but they turned on me, hitting me with a club, saying that my daughter had infected one of their sons with HIV." Her daughter, Vickie Adoch, was killed.

Attacks on people living with HIV are not uncommon in Uganda and many say they suffer humiliating discrimination by their communities.

"The killing of the woman has left us in fear," said George Odong Opeluk, chairman of the Forum for People Living with HIV/AIDS, a local support group. "People still point fingers when they get to know that you are HIV-positive; some of us cannot freely associate because we fear that anything can happen."

A woman in Patiko village, also in Gulu district, told IRIN/PlusNews that when she told her husband she had tested positive for HIV, he assaulted her and kicked her out of their home.

"My husband chased me away; his close relatives threatened me, saying that I have infected their son," said the woman, who requested anonymity. She has left Patiko and now lives in Gulu town, where she feels more secure.

The regional HIV/AIDS coordinator, Dr George Openythoo, said the high levels of stigma and discrimination threatened the success of HIV programmes in the area - not only were people reluctant to be tested, "[they] are not willing to provide care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS."

Uganda's parliament is debating an HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill that would protect HIV-positive people from discrimination by forbidding employers to subject employees to compulsory HIV tests, and prohibiting educational institutions from discrimination on the basis of HIV status.

''The killing of the woman has left us in fear''
The bill also states that "no person shall be compelled to undergo an HIV test or disclose his status for the purposes of gaining access to any credit or loan services, medical, accident or life insurance."

However, many AIDS activists have condemned sections of the bill that would, among other things, impose the death penalty for wilful transmission of HIV, compel HIV-positive people to reveal their status to their sexual partners, and allow medical practitioners to inform partners.

Opeluk said people who perpetrated crimes against HIV-positive people should be arrested to deter further violence and harassment by other members of the community. "The police should join us in the fight so that we are protected."

Regional police spokesman Johnson Kilama said the police took such attacks very seriously. He added that while there had been a number of cases of HIV-positive people being assaulted, few were reported to the authorities. "We are still investigating the case of Vickie Adoch," he said. "We shall arrest those who are implicated."

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