Corpses of HIV infected persons to be banned from mortuaries
Family members whose relatives die from HIV or AIDS will no longer be allowed to send the corpse of their loved ones to the mortuary, should parliamentarians endorse the Public Health Bill into law.
Instead the Bill proposes that a magistrate or a Botswana police officer will be empowered to direct that the corpse of a person certified to have died of HIV/AIDS to be buried immediately.
The bill being debated in parliament classifies HIV/AIDS in the same category of ‘notifiable diseases’ as leprosy, plague and cholera. Should the proposed law be passed it will be a punishable offence for owners of the premises where an HIV person has died not to notify a health officer of the death and not arrange with the health official for the removal of the body. In addition property owners are mandated to thoroughly cleanse the dwelling where the person suffering from a communicable disease resided, as a precaution to the spreading of the disease to other persons.
Those who fail to comply will be penalized and made to pay P 10 000. The Bill has raised fears that it will promote stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS and restrict their friends and relatives from paying their last respects.
When asked for a comment, Uyapo Ndadi the Director of Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) expressed concern that the Bill was ‘regressive and barbaric.’
“It is shocking that HIV is now being classified as an airborne disease. The Bill lists HIV under ‘notifiable diseases.’ Why are we making HIV a ‘notifiable disease?’ From where are we drawing the inspiration? This route is irresponsible and lacks justification in law, human rights or socially, but seems to make sense politically because our politicians believe in this Bill,” Ndadi said.
In the face of much antagonism from Members of Parliament the Minister of Health Reverent Dr Seakgosing rubbished allegations that his ministry had not consulted with the relevant authorities, including the Chairman of the National AIDS committee.
“The Bill was developed after extensive consultation with all key stakeholders. The discussions go as far back as 2004. Many of the clauses in the Bill on HIV /AIDS were developed following a consultancy review of laws and policies relating to HIV. This was in consultation with NGOs such as BONELA, NACA, Ditshwanelo, the University of Botswana, and BONEPWA’, pointed out the Minister in his closing remarks in Parliament this week.
Seakgosing asserted that he had personally consulted the Chairman of the National AIDS Committee being the former President Festus Mogae, who assured him that he was aware of the Bill and had given the proposed law his backing.
He added: “Many of the clauses have been provided such that in the event that we as a country get exposed to foreseen or unforeseen hazards then there will appropriate legislation to deal with such. I humbly appeal to the honourable members to support me in this decision not to amend any of the clauses,” pleaded the minister.