Could Aids Drug Trial Help End The Stigma Around HIV?
If those who test positive can be put on drugs straight away to protect their own lives and that of their partner's, the stigma and fear associated with HIV must begin to lift.
The global trial that has just resoundingly proved that the partners of people on Aids drugs are almost completely protected from being infected with HIV themselves is extraordinarily good news. I wrote a story about it on Thursday night.
And the more you think about it, the better this news seems. On Thursday, I also wrote of the fears of women in Uganda that they will face violence and criminalisation as a result of a bill now being debated in parliament that would force them to tell their partner if they test positive for HIV – or oblige the health worker administering the test to tell the man instead. The article was shortened and incorporated into a general story on Uganda. Below is the article in full.
Re-reading this story, it is clear to me how important the findings of the trial are. If those who test positive can be put on drugs straight away to protect not only their own lives but also their partner's health, the stigma and fear associated with HIV must begin to lift. But it will be absolutely necessary, of course, to step up the drug roll-out across affected countries. The release of the trial results are perfectly timed for UNGASS – the UN general assembly special session on Aids in New York in New York, where drugs will now, one assumes, top the agenda.
Here is the Uganda story in full:
A proposed new law in Uganda, which would oblige those who test positive for HIV to tell their partner or face jail, would lead to outbreaks of extreme violence against women, campaigners are warning.
Women are at great risk from such a law because it is usually women who learn they have HIV before their male partner, they say. Testing is a routine part of antenatal checks in pregnancy. The Uganda HIV Prevention and Control bill, which is due to be discussed in parliament on Friday, would require women to tell their partner of the test result – or mandate the health worker who carried out the test to tell him.
According to the International Community of Women living with HIV (ICW) Eastern Africa, women will be scapegoated and the consequences could be dire.
"There is going to be more domestic violence," said Lillian Mworeko, regional coordinator for ICW Eastern Africa based in Uganda. "And there are going to be women who do not access services as they should. The first culprit for criminalisation may be women. It is women who know their status first. It becomes an entry point for men to take women to court."
Mworeko said there is a danger that women could be subjected to violent assault if they tell their partners and be sued by them if they do not – for allegedly deliberately infecting them with the virus.
ICW Eastern Africa says women are already being blamed for HIV transmission. "We have discovered last year that in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda women living with HIV are coerced into sterilisation because they are HIV positive," said Corinne Miele of the organisation.
"Despite wide support and funding for prevention of mother to child transmission, women are often scared to come back to health facilities because of the mistreatment they experience. They deliver at home or find other (sometimes fatal) solutions, which means that babies are born positive and women are risking their lives when both could be avoided.
"It is also not rare to hear than a mother-to-be commits suicide because of the lack of support and care at such a vulnerable moment of her life. With such a bill, what is going to happen to all those women who are more infected and more at risk of passing on HIV to their children partly because they cannot safely go through prevention of mother to child transmission services?"
She says that blaming women – who are more likely to be infected with HIV because of their biology but also their subordinate status and poverty – and making them subject to criminal justice is a way for governments to side-step their responsibilities on healthcare but also human rights.
"A bill like this makes human rights violations against women legal. It is in complete contradiction with the ratification by Uganda of the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in July 2010 during the African Union Summit. It is a step back for the fight against HIV, for women's human rights and for maternal and child health."
The bill is being debated alongside that on homosexuality, which has attracted far more international attention. Yet, says Mworeko, "this one is going to impact negatively on more Ugandans than the other one is".