A bill that criminalizes HIV transmission has been signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Provisions of the law include possible imprisonment of HIV-positive individuals, a ten-year prison sentence and fine for the “intentional transmission of HIV,” a five-year prison sentence for “attempted transmission of HIV,” and compulsory testing in some situations. The law also allows courts to order the release a person’s HIV status without that person’s consent. The signing comes not long after the Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that many believed would steer LGBT people away from getting necessary health services.

The new law was denounced earlier this year by the United States – the biggest funder of Ugandan HIV/AIDS programs. After the Ugandan Parliament voted in favor of the legislation, but before Museveni signed the bill into law, US Global AIDS coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx called on Uganda to reject criminalization of HIV transmission.

“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,” said Dr. Birx. “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 stigma against those with HIV/AIDS is not limited to Uganda. HIV transmission is criminalized in many US states, too, where there have been 200 prosecutions against people on charges related to HIV transmission. And too often, HIV transmission is not fully understood. This ignorance was apparent in Texas, for example, where a man with HIV was sentenced to 35 years for spitting at a police officer - even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that “contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV.”

The Center for HIV Law and Policy says, “Many people with HIV internalize and accept this judgment and the perception of those with HIV as toxic, highly infectious, or dangerous to be around. This has serious adverse ramifications for those individuals, as well as on the broader effort to combat HIV.”

Media Resources: Buzzfeed 8/19/2014, 8/1/2014; Feminist Newswire 8/1/14; PEPFAR 4/14/2014; The Center for HIV Law and Policy 4/20/2014; The New York Times 4/16/2008

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