Malawi: Delay in presenting draft HIV/AIDS bill to Parliament over "contentious" statutes that would criminalise 'wilful' HIV transmission and mandate HIV testing for pregnant women

Lilongwe – In a bid to address some contentious issues in the draft HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill, Capital Hill has said it will not submit the bill to Parliament during the September meeting as was expected. Instead, Secretary for HIV/AIDS and Nutrition, Edith Mkawa said the bill will be presented during the next sitting of parliament.

Speaking to Malawi News Agency (Mana) on the sidelines of a Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS-MANET+ policy dialogue dinner meeting with parliamentarians on Wednesday, Mkawa said the draft bill was currently at the Ministry of Justice.

She said officials in her department would on Thursday, September 4, dialogue with their counterparts from the justice ministry on certain provisions before the bill is finally sent to the Cabinet and then parliament.

“There are legal issues like the criminalization of deliberate HIV transmission and mandatory testing for pregnant women that should be carefully addressed because they border on the rights of an individual. It is therefore important that we address them before we can comfortably say the bill is ready,” she said.

The PS also noted that most Members of Parliament needed to have adequate information before they deliberate on the bill in parliament.

“Most of these MPs are new and need to have as much information as possible, so we will be engaging them and various stakeholders so that we are on the same page. So, we will not be sending it to parliament now, it has to go through all the processes, ” added Mkawa.

Board Chairperson for MANET+ Joyce Mataya said the bill was one of the remedies that would effectively support the HIV response in the country.

“MANET+ has seen great improvement on the review process which led to some contentious provisions being removed and others revised. For instance if you talk about mandatory testing, and if I declare my status, how are people going to treat me?”

Mataya added, “There will be a lot of stigma and discrimination. So we need to create an environment which is friendly for this process. Any HIV testing should be by informed and truly voluntary consent; Similarly disclosure of HIV status to relations and partners should be at the discretion of the person living with the virus. ”

And, chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDS and Nutrition, Deus Gumba said they were ready to pass the bill once presented in parliament.

The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill was developed by the Malawi Law Commission-MLC in 2008 to among others, provide an institutional framework for effective regulation of the prevention and management the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Malawi.