Health Act accused of violating human rights

Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) Executive Director, Uyapo Ndadi has said that BONELA cannot overrule the possibility of taking government to court over the recent signing of the Public Health Bill by President Ian Khama.

The bill was passed by Parliament a few months ago and its signing made it a law, and it was published in the Government Gazette dated 20th September, 2013. The law amongst other things makes it compulsory for sexual partners to disclose their HIV status to each other.

Ndadi said there is a possibility that the organisation will take the government to court because the provisions are unconstitutional in that they encroach on the right to privacy, take away the dignity of people living with HIV, contradict equality clauses in the constitution and that they are discriminatory against people living with HIV.
“It is more probable than not that we will go that route because the lobbying route failed us. The government clearly was not willing to listen and I do not think lobbying them to change the law will help because they had the opportunity to listen and make amendments but they turned us down,” he said.

He said it was a bad move by the President but that was what he expected. “I did not expect him to go against Parliament because going against it would have meant him restricting his presidential powers in that if he disagrees with Parliament, he has to dissolve it and him dissolving Parliament means him ceasing to be President as well. So that is not a route I would have ever imagined him ever taking particularly on issues of HIV/AIDS which I do not think are as close to his heart,” Ndadi said.

He noted that with the new law, many people will lose confidence in the public health care system because the doctor-patient relationship which is supposed to be confidential will be compromised. “Now the doctors are licensed to breach that confidential relationship, doctors are now licensed to do as they wish in terms of the Act simply because no one can take action against them if they disclose one’s HIV status to third parties,” he said.
Responding to The Gazette inquiries, World Health Organisation representative, Dr Tebogo Madidimalo said; “As you rightly pointed out that the Bill was signed on Friday, we are yet to receive the finalized signed copy which we can then respond more objectively to your questions. You may be aware that a ‘draft’ can always be amended before signing and that ultimately is the decision of every member states as they see fit. The UN (United Nations) family, which WHO is part of, plays a critical advisory role in these matters especially if they are not in line with international norms and standards. Obviously the implication of our current position is that, we are not in a position to offer specific responses to the questions you shared earlier.”

Botswana National Front secretary for publicity and information, Moeti Mohwasa said the decision by the government to sign the Health Bill might attract lawsuits of which the government will be spending public funds on litigation. “They should have engaged relevant stakeholders on the matter. You do not have to be an expert to pick that the bill violates human rights. It is the hallmark of the current government; they have no regards to human rights issues, people need to be consulted because there are other players within the societies that this thing is going have an impact on. The intentions might be relevant but the way of going about it was wrong,” he said.
Secretary general of the Botswana Movement for Democracy, Wynter Mmolotsi said it was expected that President Khama would sign the bill since it originated from government. He said the bill was motivated by government, discussed at cabinet level before they brought it to Parliament to ask for support.

“We have not yet taken a position on the health bill at party level. It is true that it’s a violation of human rights. People may want to disclose their status when they want because it is their right. To some extent, it is a violation of human rights but some will say what about those who are not being told that their partners have HIV? It is a violation of their rights too,” said Mmolotsi.