East Africa

Edwin J. Bernard
Published: 18 July 2010


  • WATCH: #Illinois Governor signs bill repealing #HIVcriminalisation law https://t.co/guVLo1T2LT #HIVJustice https://t.co/XqKiesV1gI 02 Aug 2021
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  • #HIVcriminalisation in #Florida: length of incarceration and fiscal implications https://t.co/XMauffsmJn 28 Jul 2021
  • [Update] #US: #Missouri Governor signs bill that modernises #HIVcriminalisation laws https://t.co/kDYpBUTu6h #HIVJustice 27 Jul 2021
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HIV-specific legislation broadly criminalising HIV exposure or transmission has already been passed in Burundi (2005), Djibouti (2007), Kenya (2006),Madagascar (2005), Mozambique (2009) and Tanzania(2008). HIV-specific criminal laws are currently proposed and/or being debated in Malawi1,2 and Uganda.3 Mauritius is the only East African country to explicitly decide against criminalising HIV exposure or transmission due to "concern about detrimental impacts on public health and the conviction that it would not serve any preventive purposes."4

The East African Community (EAC) is proposing a common HIV-specific law for Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda that "aims to provide joint treatment policies for people in the region while they move freely across the borders."i According to news reports, the East Africa HIV Prevention and Management Bill does not specifically reference punitive measures for alleged 'wilful transmission'5 and by doing so seeks to override "errors in current laws" in individual EAC member countries that have enacted HIV-specific criminal legislation.6

i. See www.criminalhivtransmission.blogspot.com


Burundi passed an HIV-specific law in 2005 based on the AWARE-HIV/AIDS model law. Section 42 states: “Any person who wilfully transmits HIV by any means will be prosecuted for attempted murder and is punishable according to the provisions of criminal law.”7 There have been no reports of prosecutions so far.


Djibouti enacted an HIV-specific law in 2007 based on the AWARE-HIV/AIDS model law. Articles 18-21 allow for criminal prosecution of potential or actual sexual HIV exposure or transmission through "carelessness, recklessness or negligence" with a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million Djibouti francs.8 There have been no reports of prosecutions so far.


Ethiopia does not have an HIV-specific law, but has prosecuted at least one unspecified case of HIV transmission under general criminal law (a report and relevant sections of the law can be found at the Global Criminalisation Scan). Article 514 of the Penal Code (Spreading of Human Diseases) allows for prosecutions for the intentional, reckless or negligent transmission of any disease to another person. Transmission of any disease with malice, or the reckless transmission of "a disease which can cause grave injury or death" can result in a prison sentence of 20 years "or in grave cases, with rigorous imprisonment for life or death." Negligent transmission can result in "simple imprisonment or fine."


Kenya passed both the Sexual Offences Act and the HIV Prevention and Control Act in 2006 (full text of both laws can be found at the Global Criminalisation Scan). The latter, based on the AWARE-HIV/AIDS model law, was meant to implemented in March 2009, but remains suspended as of 1 March 2010.6 Together, these laws require HIV-positive individuals to “take all reasonable measures and precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV to others.” Offenders can be imprisoned for up to seven years. In addition, someone who “knowingly and willfully does anything or permits the doing of anything which he or she knows or ought to reasonably know will [or is likely to] infect another person with HIV” faces 15 years to life in prison. There have been no reports of prosecutions.


Madagascar enacted an HIV-specific law in 20059. The law criminalises HIV transmission by “recklessness, carelessness, inattentiveness or negligence”, with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. There have been no reports of prosecutions.


Malawi's draft HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill contains three provisions (Articles 43 to 45) relating to HIV exposure and transmission.1 ‘Deliberate’, ‘reckless’ and ‘negligent’ HIV exposure or transmission all appear to be criminalised with a maximum prison sentence of ten years for ‘reckless’ or ‘negligent’ transmission and 14 years for ‘deliberate’ transmission. Disclosure of HIV-positive status is not mentioned, either as a legal obligation or as an affirmative defence. The criminalisation provisions in the draft Bill are controversial.2 A study that assessed key stakeholders' awareness of, and support and concerns over, the Bill found only 19% of respondents in favour.1 One member of the Law Commission, which authored the Bill, noted difficulties in proving liability for transmission but stated "we are not going to dwell too much on how to prove who transmitted HIV to whom, this will be left to the courts".1


Like other legislation based on the AWARE-HIV/AIDS model law, a draft version of the HIV and AIDS Preventative Measures Act 2006 had originally included a provision for the prosecution for 'wilful' HIV transmission.10 Civil society engaged with parliamentarians and state-law officials who were persuaded to remove the provision after accepting it could do more harm than good to public health and human rights. Explaining the decision, Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Rama Valayden, noted: "Criminalisation would have created more problems than solving them... Mauritius decided to put its resources where they are most likely to have a positive impact on reducing the spread of HIV: increased funding for HIV testing and counselling and for evidence-informed prevention measures."4


Mozambique's criminal-transmission provision in its HIV-specific law, based on the AWARE-HIV/AIDS model law, is extremely broad. Where the proposed law had differentiated between "intentional transmission" and "transmission resulting from negligence,"11 Article 52 (Voluntary transmission of HIV) of the law, enacted in 200912, appears to criminalise all forms of HIV transmission regardless of method or state of mind. However, it is not considered "voluntary transmission" when "there is no significant risk of infection" or if the HIV-positive individual "did not violate the right to care". Prison sentences range from between two and eight years.


Article 30 of the Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Gender-based Violence, passed in 2008, allows for the prosecution of any person "intentionally transmitting a terminal disease" with a penalty of life imprisonment. However, the law has not yet been enacted  (full text of the law can be found at the Global Criminalisation Scan).


Tanzania enacted an HIV-specific law in 2008 based on the AWARE-HIV/AIDS model law. The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act requires the immediate disclosure of HIV-positive status to a spouse or sexual partner  (full text of the law can be found at the Global Criminalisation Scan). Section 47 allows for the prosecution of the broad offence of ‘wilful transmission’ of HIV. The maximum sentence was reduced from life imprisonment in the draft bill to ten years’ imprisonment in the enacted Act12. There have been no reports of prosecutions.


Uganda has seen a great deal of public debate regarding establishing HIV-specific criminal laws in the country (see Criminal HIV Transmission). Although President Yoweri Museveni supports the death penalty for ‘intentional transmission’,13 article 40 in the latest draft of the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, 2009, proposes life imprisonment for any "person who wilfully and intentionally transmits HIV to another person"  (full text available at the Global Criminalisation Scan). The law allows for the affirmative defences of consent following disclosure, and "a condom or other reliable protective measure...used during penetration". Article 42 also punishes the "breach of safe practices of HIV prevention" with individuals subject to a minimum three months' imprisonment and/or a fine of 800,000 shillings. A separate draft Anti-Homosexuality Bill has created international controversy.14,15 The bill proposes the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’, which includes sex between men when one is HIV-positive. President Museveni recently acknowledged the international community's concerns,16 and government support for the bill appears to be waning.17


  1. Christian Aid Possible Outcomes of the Proposed HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Management) Bill in Malawi. November, 2009
  2. BBC Online Malawi defends plans to outlaw HIV transmission. 7 April, 2010
  3. Human Rights Watch Uganda: Bill Threatens Progress on HIV/AIDS. 6 November, 2009
  4. UNAIDS/UNDP International Consultation on the Criminalization of HIV Transmission: Summary of main issues and conclusions. Geneva, 2008
  5. IRIN/Plus News EAST AFRICA: One region, one HIV law. 31 March, 2010
  6. Daily Nation Proposed law comes to the aid of people living with HIV. 1 March, 2010
  7. Burundi Law 1/018 of 12 May 2005 on the Legal Protection of People Infected with HIV and of People Suffering from AIDS. Available online at: www.chr.up.ac.za, 2005
  8. Djibouti Law No 174/An/07/5 L portant mesures protectrices adaptées à la situation des personnes vivant avec le VIH/Sida et des groupes vulnérables. See: www.gnpplus.net/criminalisation,
  9. Government of Madagascar, Madagascar Law 2005-040 on the Fight against HIV/AIDS and the Protection of Rights of People Living with HIV 2005. On file with the author, 2006
  10. IPPF, GNP+, ICW Verdict on a Virus: public health, human rights and criminal law. Available online at: www.ippf.org/en/Resources/Guides-toolkits/Verdict+on+a+virus.htm, 2008
  11. IRIN/Plus News MOZAMBIQUE: Proposed Law a Mixed Bag for People with HIV. 1 December, 2008
  12. Clayton M, personal correspondence with the author, unpublished, 2010
  13. Musoke C Those who spread AIDS should hang. Sunday Vision, 15 March 2008
  14. BBC Online Uganda MP urges death for gay sex. 15 October, 2009
  15. Amnesty International Ugandan 'Anti-homosexuality' Bill Threatens Liberties and Human Rights Defenders. Press Release, 16 October 2009
  16. Kimball J Bill on homosexuality 'needs more discussion'. Reuters, 12 January 2010
  17. AFP Little support for Uganda anti-gay law. News24.com, 9 April 2010

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A writer and advocate on a range of HIV-related issues, Edwin has a particular specialism in HIV and the criminal law. He works with national and international HIV organisations, including the International AIDS Society, GNP+ and UNAIDS, as well having as a long association with NAM as a writer on this topic and as the former editor of HIV Treatment Update. To visit Edwin's blog and respond to posts click here.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
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