There has been much debate around the issue of HIV Criminalization in recent years. This is the idea that those individuals who are HIV+ and infect another person can (and should) be brought up on criminal charges. The details are fuzzy and most often the media has focused on extreme cases. This is within our country.
In Africa, HIV Criminalization is rampant and supported by many African country officials. Ugandan parliament submitted a bill last year that would make HIV Criminalization a law. It is now being revealed that U.S. efforts are providing funding to similar HIV Criminalization efforts across Africa.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been financing the Action for West Africa Region HIV-AIDS program which has been instrumental in creating and enforcing more aggressive HIV/AIDS policies across Africa. This has translated into developing a “model” HIV-specific criminal law.
USAID has been providing funding for these efforts since 2004. Prior to this effort, there were no HIV Criminalization laws in any country in Africa. Now, there are at least 27 African countries with active laws.
It seems the original efforts of AWARE were to reduce stigma of HIV+ adults and also protect those at risk of contracting HIV. These are noble efforts. Yet clearly something has been lost in the translation. The language is vague, there is room for too loose translation and several countries who have adopted the "model" have then made their own revisions. Cases in point: In Togo, sex without a condom is illegal, regardless of a person's HIV status; in Benin, no HIV transmission is even required - if an HIV+ individual engages in "unprotected sexual relations" with another person, it is a crime; in Burundi, a "willful" transmitter of HIV can be tried for murder.
Stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS and homophobia are rampant in Africa. On January 26, David Kato, a prominent gay activist, was murdered in Uganda. Many believe that American influence, particularly of evangelicals, is the reason for Uganda's severe anti-homosexuality stance. Uganda is also clearly stigmatizing those living with HIV/AIDS. Now Ugandan officials are working to criminalize HIV+ individuals as well.
Africa has a history of intolerance and severe reactions to that which is considered "wrong". America cannot continue to play a role in influencing or condoning these actions. America cannot continue to fund hate. Please join us in demanding USAID to stop funding HIV Criminalization Laws in Africa!
Photo Credit: Radio Netherlands Worldwide