Bots enacts controversial HIV law

 

Gaborone ‑ Botswana's President Ian Khama has signed into law the controversial Public Health Bill passed by Parliament seven months ago. The controversial legislation compels people living with HIV to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Botswana’s Attorney-General, Dr Athaliah Molokomme, revealed this during his address at the Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) recently. 

“The President has signed the Bill and it has been published in the Government Gazette,” she said, while acknowledging that BONELA lawyers were preparing to battle it out with her department at the courts over the new law.  The new law means that HIV patients will lose their privacy as they will be forced to tell whomsoever they have sexual relations with their HIV status.

The law will also limit the right to freedom of movement for HIV positive persons. An HIV infected person may be detained and isolated if there is evidence that they are likely to infect other persons.

HIV testing will become compulsory and patients due for surgical or dental procedure can be required to undergo an HIV test before the procedure. The law also empowers doctors to tell their patient’s sexual partner of their HIV status without their consent.

The law will also take away the parental consent and guardianship from parents of minors and place them in the hands of doctors. Not knowing one’s status can be a good line of defence in a court of law if one is charged with infecting another person with HIV and emphasis should be on promoting safe sex by all, irrespective of whether one knows their status or not, the new law states.

According to the new law, women, who are normally the first to test, will be hard done by this law because an assumption will be created that since they came to know of their status first, then they infected their male partners who ordinarily test through their partners, or after their partners or never test at all.

For his part, outgoing BONELA director, Uyapo Ndadi, has described the new law “as a sad day for Botswana”. “People will be forced to disclose their HIV/AIDS status and if they refuse they will be dragged before the courts,” said Ndadi. 

He said people would shy away from accessing health facilities for fear of their privacy and dignity being violated.“We have said it before that this provision is targeting HIV/AIDS positive people. This is because it doesn’t say anything about those who are negative nor make any mention of the use of condoms,” he said. 

Ndadi revealed that they intend to challenge the new law before the courts. Opposition Botswana Congress Party Youth League (BCPPYL) also expressed disappointment that President Khama has signed the Bill into an Act of Parliament.   The BCP Youth League President Dithapelo Keorapetse said this is a move in the wrong direction as far as human rights are concerned. 

He said the President has ignored the misgivings and apprehensions that had been expressed by the World Health Organisation and local non-governmental organisations on the provisions of the Act. 

September 2013
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