By Solomon Lubambula
The recently passed HIV/AIDS prevention and Control Bill not only threaten public health but also the right to privacy as provided for by the 1995 Uganda constitution.
Like the anti pornography and gay legalization passed by parliament recently, the HIV/AIDS prevention and control Bill has equally attracted criticisms from sections of the public on grounds that its provisions undermine the fundamental human rights.
In additional to castigating clause 39 and 41 that criminalize the transmission of HIV, the HIV/AIDS activists says that the law has other clauses that violate other freedoms like the constitutional right to privacy.
Clause 21 of the Act part E, states that a person may disclose the results of an HIV test without the consent of the tested person in circumstances where they endanger other people’s lives. Or in case the disclosure of the test results is authorized by any other law.
The Executive Director Uganda law, ethics and HIV/AIDS Dorah Kiconco Musinguzi says apart from public health issues, the Bill poses serious Human Rights violations.
Musinguzi says that when a doctor discloses someone’s HIV/AIDS status to other parties without the individual’s consent, it total mounts to encroachment of that person’s right to privacy.
She adds that the purpose of this provision that mandates the doctor to disclose someone’s HIV/AIDS test results seeks to protect their partners. So the same bill that highlights the principle of confidentiality under section 19 but it also breaks this very principle by giving the health worker a lot of power to decide who to tell the HIV/AIDS test results and it does not have to be your partner, it can be anybody.
Musinguzi says that this exposes a person’s private information not only to his/her partner but also to third parties whom the health worker thinks may be exposed to the danger of that person’s HIV status.
Article 27 of the constitution provides for the right to privacy. This constitutional article among other things states that no person shall be subjected to the interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.
The sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Officer at the International Community of women living with HIV and AIDS Eastern Africa (ICWEA), Margaret Happy says that the ethic principle of confidentiality by the health workers is also jeopardized under this law, which equally frustrates the right to privacy.
“Authorizing health workers to disclose the HIV status of a client without their consent is a violation of Human Rights, but it also contradicts medical ethics, because professionally medics are not supposed to disclose anybody’s information without their consent”-Happy sadly noted
According to Happy, violation of anyone’s right to privacy and lack of confidentiality by the health workers will increase discrimination and stigma.
“disclosing my status for instance to my partner who is not well prepared can fuel domestic violence and we are yet to experience this, because the issue around HIV is not a simple thing, someone must be prepared very well.….so we are going to get more cases of domestic violence, divorce among other evils” Happy stressed.
Immaculate Owomugisha, a senior community engagement officer at Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) said although doctors have been given mandate to disclose HIV/AIDS status to the people’s partners, there is no grantee that the doctors will not disclose the same information to third parties who are not even concerned about the status of this particular individual.
Because matters of HIV/AIDS are both of a Public Health and Human Rights concern, activists say that during the enactment of this law, parliamentarians ought to have considered and incorporated human rights aspects. It is on this note that they recommend deletion of all references to mandatory disclosure without consent of the person tested by medical practitioners whether to their partner or to any other person
The Programs officer at the Unwanted Witness Uganda Godfrey Twesigye says that without a data protection law in the country to ensure the enjoyment of the right to privacy; such important personal information is at risk of being misused.
Stressing the need for a proper and safe way of storing important data like health test findings, Twesigye noted that in addition to having mechanisms like the HIV/AIDS records centre, the country needs Data protection laws that must be strictly enforced.
It is now upon government to enact a law on data protection to ensure that even health workers do not just disclose people’s health records anyhow.