Workshop on Rights Based Approaches to HIV and AIDS ends in Bujumbura / Wants regional Bill to comply with international standards

By East African Community (EAC)

ARUSHA, Tanzania, December 2, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- As EALA marks its 10th Anniversary and at the occasion of the World AIDS Day 2011, themed Getting to Zero, Parliamentarians have been urged to go flat out towards creating enabling policy and legislative framework for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The resolution sums up the mood of a regional workshop themed 'Responsive HIV and AIDS Legislation and MDGs: The Role of Parliamentarians' organised for EALA and the civil society by the East Africa National Networks of AIDS Service Organisations (EANNASO). The two-day meeting took place in Bujumbura, Burundi.

The workshop recommended that EALA ensures the provisions of the EAC HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill 2010 inter alia complies with regional and international legal instruments with regards to the international guidelines on HIV and AIDS and human rights. The Bill was prepared following consultations by EANNASO and EALA and was forwarded to the EAC Council of Ministers by EALA's Committee on General Purpose (GPC) because of its policy nature.

In this regard, the workshop implored EALA to consult with the EAC Council of Ministers' with a view to getting a way forward on the Bill. The Bill envisages the prevention and management of HIV and AIDS and the protection and promotion of the human rights for Persons Living with HIV and AIDS and for related matters.

“The region should adopt evidence based, Rights Based approaches to HIV and AIDS in order to achieve zero new infections, zero AIDS related deaths and zero discrimination taking into account special needs of the most at risk persons”, the workshop stated.

Such a move would contribute in the long run towards improving livelihoods and access of basic services by the citizens of the region.

In a Communiqué released at the end of the workshop, delegates noted with concern that with increased movement of persons in the region owing to the EAC integration process, the potential for HIV and AIDS to “deepen and go more regional” was an inevitable reality.

“The coming into force of the Customs Union and the Common Market is inspiring. At the same time, it results into free movement of persons, capital, goods and services, the net effect being the increased interaction of people across the region”, a section of the resolutions read in part.

This is in addition to the already existing burden of 4,450,000 persons living with HIV in the EAC region. Another 338,000 annual new infections have been recorded and over four million orphans left, due to HIV related deaths according to the UNAIDS Report on Global AIDS Epidemic 2010.

In his opening remarks yesterday, EALA Speaker, Rt. Hon Abdirahin Abdi urged Parliaments in the region to raise concerns with the respective the EAC and Partner States' governments in order to influence decisions aimed at accelerating or adjusting progress of MDGs and HIV/AIDS related policies. “It should be the role of every Parliamentarian to raise issues of concern relating to the MDGs on behalf of their constituents”, Rt. Hon Abdi said.

EANNASO Treasurer, Sam Wangalwa noted that a good HIV and AIDS Bill was not only a necessity for the region but a priority. “The essence of what we are doing in this workshop over the next two days arises from the fact that there is increased stigmatization leading to barriers. This must come to an end”, he noted.

UNAIDS Representative in Burundi Ms. Rosemarie Munoz was emphatic that unity and consultation among the various stakeholders was a key process in ensuring enactment of relevant legislation in the case of the HIV and AIDS Prevention Management Bill 2010 in particular and in all other envisaged legislation in general.

The sessions were chaired by Hon Sebtuu Nassor, Chairperson of the GPC, and Members, Hon Dr. Gharib Billal, Hon Sarah Bonaya and Hon Dora Byamukama.

At the moment the Partner States have relevant Laws and Bills or are in the process of the same. Burundi, Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania have enacted specific HIV and AIDS Laws. Uganda has proposed a specific HIV and AIDS Law. Rwanda on its part has proposed a non-HIV and AIDS specific legislation which is intended to govern reproductive health in general but has a HIV and AIDS related part.

All the legislations according to the resolutions arrived at the end of the two-day workshop fall short of the model requirements of the Right Based Approaches to HIV and AIDS. Specific provisions that are deficient include the principles of testing and disclosure and protection of the most at risk and the vulnerable groups among others.