Government has defied calls by civil society organisations and other stakeholders to decriminalise wilful transmission of HIV in the HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill.
Minister of Health Peter Kumpalume introduced the Bill for debate in Parliament yesterday.
The controversial provisions are in sections 42 to 44 of the Bill, which make an offender liable to 21 years imprisonment for wilfully infecting another person and 14 years imprisonment for negligently infecting a person with the virus.
Section 27 prohibits testing before recruitment into employment although it allows Malawi Defence Force, Malawi Police Service and the Immigration Department to assess the physical fitness of recruits.
Section 27 (b) also allows the testing of a domestic worker before employment, a proposal which drew criticism when the Bill was introduced in the House yesterday.
Ironically, immediately after these provisions, Section 28 makes it a criminal offence to fire an employee on the grounds that he is living or perceived to be living with HIV and Aids.
HIV and Aids Committee chairperson, Deus Gumba, said although the country has waited for 10 years to have the Bill brought to Parliament, it has some issues that require clarification.
He said these were contentious issues that were identified as problematic by different stakeholders.
“It is a problem to force uniformed forces to be tested, even [during] pre-employment because the same does not provide for what would happen in case the officer is infected after employment,” Gumba said.
On wilful transmission of the virus, Gumba said in the absence of technologies to detect how a virus was transmitted, it would be difficult to prove how a person was infected.
He also said testing domestic workers was a form of discrimination because it was subjecting a person to torture.
On his part, People’s Party spokesperson on health Ralph Jooma said criminalising HIV would result in people not going for voluntary counselling and testing.
The committee is due to meet various stakeholders over the weekend to clarify and iron out the issues.
The HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill was developed by the Malawi Law Commission in 2008 to provide an institutional framework for effective regulation of the prevention and management of HIV and Aids in Malawi. n