Editorial: Burden of HIV disclosure falls on Uganda’s women

An article in today’s Toronto Star highlights the heavy burden that HIV-positive women will carry under Uganda’s proposed HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Law.

In the article, children’s rights activists, Marc and Craig Kielburger, note that many HIV-positive women in Uganda – who are likely to be tested before their husbands as part of ante-natal screening – face violence and even death for disclosing their HIV status to their husbands. They highlight the fate of Glorius Kyarihunda, 25, who was murdered by her husband within days of disclosing her HIV status to him.

According to the Ugandan branch of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Glorius was one of five women murdered in 2008 under similar circumstances. Thousands more suffered abuse or eviction. In a survey of just one district by ActionAid Uganda, 100 out of 465 women said they experienced domestic violence as a result of disclosing their status.Disclosure is not only difficult, it’s dangerous. Yet, just months after Glorius’ death, the Ugandan Parliament is debating a bill that gives a person six weeks after testing positive to tell their partner before the government does.

Given the inequalities in both inter-personal relationships, and the legal status of women in Uganda, this is simply unfair, they argue given:

the rules of predominantly male-dominated societies leave women unable to negotiate condom use or family planning. Many men, like Glorius’ husband, hold their wives responsible for infection.

The article then goes on to critique other criminal HIV transmission laws in Africa:

In Togo, anyone who doesn’t use a condom in “all risky sexual relations” is breaking the law while Guinea requires mandatory testing before marriage. In Zimbabwe, a woman was convicted for “deliberately infecting another person.” Her lover has never tested positive for the virus. In Sierra Leone, women can also be criminalized for exposing their infants to HIV.

That this anti-criminalisation article was published in a Canadian paper is somewhat ironic given the number of prosecutions taking place there, but then there is often a lack of joined-up-thinking in many low-prevalence countries when it comes international concern about AIDS and domestic HIV policies.