Since HIV first became a media football, various commentators have obsessed about the idea that there are lots of people who deliberately transmit HIV. There were loads of stories about it in the early days, and they still appear every now and again. One of the countries to take this idea most seriously is Uganda, who have created a law that purports to be aimed at people who ‘deliberately’ transmit HIV.
The fact that there are probably very few such people, if any, won’t worry those supporting the passing of the bill. Some of them have got a lot of mileage out of victim blaming, while making no effort whatsoever to reduce HIV transmission, or to reduce any other kind of human suffering.
This bill may have the unintended effect of criminalizing the work of people who work with skin piercing instruments, such as health care workers, traditional practitioners and cosmetic workers, who all may break skin and draw blood every working day, whether deliberately or by accident, and who may inadvertently infect a client with hepatitis, HIV or some other blood born pathogen.
Uganda has failed to establish how HIV is still being transmitted at a rate high enough to keep prevalence at about the same level for over 10 years. Now they are blaming anyone they can think of rather than reconsidering the epidemic in their country. Perhaps receiving global attention for speaking openly about the virus in the early days counted as doing something then, but now, after nearly three decades of continuing high rates of transmission, being open is not enough.
It’s time to investigate infections, trace partners and, more importantly, to investigate non-sexual risks, such as those people face when visiting health facilities, traditional and cosmetic practitioners. Being open about HIV means being open about how the virus is spread, rather than continuing to rant on about individual sexual behavior. That cash cow is drying up, anyhow, so now is a good time for this weaning process to begin.
[For more about non-sexual HIV risks, visit our Healthcare Risks and Cosmetic Risks for HIV]