Thursday, May 30, 2024

Khama signs controversial Public Health Bill in to law

President Ian Khama has signed the controversial Public Health Bill which Parliament passed seven months ago into a law. The law has been published in the Government Gazette. The Bill was recently passed by Parliament.
The new law strips people living with HIV/AIDS of their privacy by making it a criminal offence not to disclose their status to their sexual partners.
Attorney General, Dr Athalia Molokomme shocked members of  the Botswana Network of Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) where she was invited as a keynote speaker when she announced that the president had signed the bill into a law.
“The President has assented to the bill and it has been published in the Government Gazette. I know BONELA lawyers are preparing for litigation,” she said.
The law will also limit the right to freedom of movement for HIV positive persons. An HIV infected person may be detained and isolated if there is evidence that they are likely to infect other persons.
HIV testing will become compulsory and patients due for surgical or dental procedure can be required to undergo an HIV test before the procedure. The law will also take away the parental consent and guardianship from parents of minors and place them in the hands of doctors. The law also empowers doctors to tell their patient’s sexual partner of their HIV status without their consent.
According to the new law, not knowing one’s status can be a good line of defence in a court of law if one is charged with infecting another person with HIV; emphasize should be on promoting safe sex by all, irrespective of whether one knows their status or not.
The new law also states  that women, who are normally the first to test, will be hard done by this law because an assumption will be created that since they came to know of their status first, then they infected their male partners who ordinarily test through their partners, or after their partners or never test at all.
Commenting on the matter, Outgoing BONELA Director Uyapo Ndadi said it was not surprising that President Khama has assented to the bill, saying they expected that.
“It has never happened for the president to go against Parliament. If he had returned the bill to Parliament and Parliament doesn’t agree with him, it would mean that he would have to dissolve Parliament and that would mean him losing the presidency,” observed Ndadi.
 He said Batswana will shy away from accessing health facilities for fear of their privacy and dignity being violated.
Asked what action BONELA intends to take, Ndadi said they are going to the drawing board and emphasized that he does not overrule the possibility of challenging the constitutionality of some provisions particularly the provision that compels a partner to disclose their HIV/ AIDS status before sex.
He said this provision is targeting HIV/AIDS positive people as it doesn’t say anything about those who are negative nor make any mention of the use of condoms.
┬áBotswana Congress Party Youth League (BCPYL) said it had written a letter to┬á President Khama requesting for a meeting and they were turned down. BCPYL president, Dithapelo Keorapetse told Sunday Standard that, “the day in which the president┬áassented to the public health bill┬áis a date which will leave in infamy, and it’s a great┬áleap backwards in attaining human rights┬áin matters of HIV/AIDS. The BCPYL is saddened and disappointed in the decision. We had written to HE requesting him not to sign the bill┬ábut he obviously disregarded not┬áonly our position┬ábut also that of BONELA and World Health Organisation (WHO).
┬áMid this year BONELA also petitioned Khama not to sign the Bill into law. But Khama turned down BONELA. ?In a letter dated 18 April 2013, signed by Senior Private Secretary to the President, Brigadier George Tlhalerwa, he stated that “…this office is not in a position to take up the issues you have raised in your letter as you have already put them in the public domain, before discussing them with His Excellency, the President”. ??


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