The 32 year old Female secondary school teacher, Ms Sylvia Komuhangi who recently regained her freedom after spending nine months at Kitgum Central prison over allegations of infecting a baby with HIV/AIDS, has narrated her ordeal and called on parliament to revisit HIV criminal laws noting that they are vogue, unfair and encourage trumped charges.
Speaking at Fairway hotel in Kampala, the teacher who had gone for a tour at the famous Kidepo national park, said court based on her HIV positive status to convict and sentence her without scratching below the table for facts and establishing the HIV status of the toddler.
On July 4, 2019, Kitgum Chief Magistrate, Hussein Nasur Ntalo, Ms Komuhangi of offence of committing a negligent act likely to spread disease contrary to Section 171 of the Penal Code Act of the Republic of Uganda and sentenced her to two years in Kitgum central prison.
Through her layers led by Inaccurate Owomugisha of Uganda Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), Komuhangi appealed against lower courts’ ruling and on 28 August, The Gulu High Court Judge, Stephen Mubiru quashed the conviction, saying that forensic tests showed that DNA traces found on the cloth that Komuhangi used to wrap the baby belonged to her but did not contain any blood.
“I could not find any connection between her piece of cloth and the blood said to have been injected into the baby because the swelling found on the baby could have been a mere rash,” he ruled.
“The conviction is quashed and the sentence is set aside, the appellant is set free unconditionally unless she is held on some other lawful reasons,” he said in his ruling.
Komuhangi is not the first convict as a result of those laws. In 2014, a 64-year-old nurse in Kampala, Rosemary Namubiru, was accused of injecting a toddler with her HIV-positive blood in the process of administering treatment.
Namubiru was put on trial amid pressure from several local and international organisations, including the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, who castigated the quality of the media reporting in the immediate aftermath of her arrest.
“The media engaged in unabashed and unverified sensationalism. Rosemary was branded a ‘killer,’ guilty of maliciously and intentionally attempting to transmit her own HIV infection to a child,” said the Commission’s statement.
“Subsequent to those allegations, the baseless rumour-mongering escalated: various news reports branded Rosemary a fiendish serial offender; a nurse who was mentally ill; a nurse without credentials…. Sadly, we’re convinced that the charge was originally laid because of the media frenzy,” added the statement.
UGANET and other human rights organisations have however called on the constitutional Court to fast track the hearing of a petition No. 24 of 2016 where they challenged section 18 (e) that authorizes a medical practitioner to reveal HIV results to any other person with whom an HIV infected person is in close contact, including sexual partner, infringes on client’s rights to privacy and Section 41 on attempted transmission of HIV and Section 43 on intentional transmission of HIV should be repealed in favour of Section 171 of the Penal Code Act.
They also implored justice actors at all levels to increase rigor while handling HIV related case adding that being HIV positive alone should not impute malice on the side of the perpetrator.
Below is the narration.
On December 26, 2018, the 32 year old female teacher and her female colleague travelled to Kitgum a head of their tour in Kidepo National park slated for on 27 that same month. She spent several nights at Eunice Lakot, a friend’s house in Kitgum Town before the tour.
Sylvia said at round 9:00pm that same, Ms Lakot’s baby who was sleeping in its bed started yelling and this prompted her from the sitting room to go and pick with the intent of passing it to its mum who was outside however it continued crying. The mother, Eunice Lakot, examined her baby and found swellings in both armpits.
She took the baby to Kitgum hospital for diagnosis, where doctors reportedly confirmed that the swellings were caused by injections. Consequently, a medical professional tested Komuhangi for HIV, and she was found positive. The child was given Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), an antiretroviral medication that prevents infection to anyone exposed to HIV during the first ninety-six hours. Subsequently, Komuhangi was arrested.
As per the program, Sylvia and her colleague, told Lakot to wake them up at 4:00am to prepare as the tourist van was to pick them in the morning. They set off to the National park where they spent almost full day.
On backing off from the national park, Sylvia said they found a meeting at Lakot’s home however they ignored it till they were angrily called into the house. “They introduced themselves to us that they are local leaders and they are there over an issue of infecting the baby with Aids.
They were taken to Kitgum central police where she spent two weeks in custody asking to be released on bond, but they could not even bond her out, saying she was a non-resident. Consequently, a medical professional tested Komuhangi for HIV, and she was found positive. Her colleague was released on police bond.
She was subsequently charged at Kitgum Magistrate’s Court with the offence of committing a “negligent act likely to spread disease contrary to Section 171 of the Penal Code Act of the Republic of Uganda and remanded. She applied for bail however her plea was no heard.
The child was given Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), an antiretroviral medication that prevents infection to anyone exposed to HIV during the first ninety-six hours. Subsequently, Komuhangi was arrested.
On Thursday, July 4th 2019, Kitgum Chief Magistrate, Hussein Nasur Ntalo convicted and sentenced her to two years in prison.
On Kumuhangi’s release, Lakot, the mother of the baby, shared that the most recent results showed that her baby is HIV negative. Lakot, nevertheless, said she was not happy with the High Court’s ruling, but the baby’s maternal grandmother, Rose Oryem, said they would not challenge the court’s decision.