Zimbabwe repeals barbaric law punishing people for transmitting HIV

People in Zimbabwe will no longer face prison for transmitting HIV.

Section 79 of Zimbabwe’s criminal code made it illegal to transmit HIV to a partner, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Those convicted could be punished with up to 20 years in prison. According to aidsmap, 16 people were arrested or prosecuted under the law between October 2015 and December 2018.

The law was focused on making bride prices, paid by the groom to his future in-law, mandatory, but contained a clause stripping penalties for HIV transmission.

UNAIDS applauded Zimbabwe’s parliament for the move.

According to the UN agency, the former law was ineffective as well as discriminatory. UNAIDS reinforced that criminalisation undermines efforts to reduce new HIV infections, discouraging people from getting tested and seeking treatment.

Executive director Winnie Byanyima said: “Public health goals are not served by denying people their individual rights and I commend Zimbabwe for taking this hugely important step.”

“This decision strengthens the HIV response in Zimbabwe by reducing the stigma and discrimination that too often prevents vulnerable groups of people from receiving HIV prevention, care and treatment services.”

The agency worked closely with Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, as well as parliamentarians, civil society activists and communities in advocating against the law criminalising HIV.

In over 130 countries, not disclosing, exposing or transmitting HIV is a criminal offence.

“Overly broad and inappropriate application of criminal law against people living with HIV remains a serious concern across the globe,” UNAIDS added.

A consensus developed by the agency, the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care and the International AIDS Society calls on the criminal justice system to ensure that the law in criminal cases related to HIV is backed by science.

According to UNAIDS, Zimbabwe made significant progress in the response to HIV over the past decade. According to estimates, 1.2 million of the 1.3 million people living with HIV in the country are now receiving treatment.

Since 2010, AIDS-related deaths have decreased in the country by 63 per cent. New HIV diagnoses were down by 66 per cent over the same period.

UNAIDS previously warned that due to the coronavirus pandemic, severe disruptions to HIV services could set back progress on AIDS by ten years or more in parts of Africa.