HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, September 14, 2009

African Policy - Criminalize the Spread of HIV?

Two Zambia air force members claim they were discriminated against when they were discharged because they have HIV.This African case may influence how African courts respond to the HIV epidemic and shape policy. Reports the Washington Post:

Across the continent, lawmakers are considering whether to make criminals of those who infect others with HIV, allow bosses to test workers for the virus, punish women who pass it to their babies and give constitutional protections to those with HIV.

Such questions are increasingly landing in courtrooms, presenting judges with cases that mix current science, individual rights and a devastating public health crisis. One, involving two Zambia air force members who say they were unfairly discharged because they have HIV, goes to trial here next month. 

While the UN, human rights organizations and several African nations have favored a more rights-friendly approach for those with HIV, some African countries are justifying laws criminalizing HIV as a means to reduce the spread of the disease.

Laws criminalizing the transmission of HIV have been adopted from western to southern Africa, for example, with backing from some women's groups despite human rights advocates' contention that they deepen stigma. In Botswana, protests by activists have failed to stop employers from testing and excluding infected job applicants. A recent proposal in Rwanda would require HIV tests for many -- an idea supported by observers who say that relying on people to seek testing "can deprive other people of their right to life," as one University of Pretoria researcher wrote in South Africa's Star newspaper.

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