EALA passes regional bill on HIV and AIDS

EALA has today debated and passed the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill 2012. At the same time, the House adjourned the Conflict Management Bill, 2011 to allow more consultations by the Council of Ministers.

The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill 2012 passed with key crucial amendments to it. With the passing of the Bill, Governments shall ensure that persons living with or affected by HIV and AIDS are protected from all forms of abuse, discrimination and are provided with appropriate support, care and treatment services. The Bill further promotes and puts in place prevention programmes which take cognizance of the new knowledge related to treatment and other areas around HIV and AIDS.

The Bill whose prime mover is Hon Lydia Wanyoto-Mutende, seeks to provide for the prevention and management of HIV and AIDS and for the protection and promotion of the human rights of persons living with or affected by the same. The Bill seeks to create a common, responsive legal framework for HIV and AIDS in the region applying the rights based approach and in incorporating good standards and practices in HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. In her contribution, Hon Wanyoto termed the Bill a matter of ‘life and death’ and one that shall play a significant part in realization of the Common Market Protocol whose fundamental principles include free movement of persons.

In the ensuing debate, Hon Sebalu urged Partner States to put emphasis on education, information and dissemination while Hon Dan Kidega called for the support of the Partner States in propping up industries that manufacture the drugs in the region to facilitate easy access to drugs.

The EAC Council of Ministers reiterated its support for the Bill terming it progressive. Kenya’s Assistant Minister for the EAC, Hon Peter Munya, lauded the region and particularly the Republic of Uganda for availing affordable Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs) to the populace. The Minister told the region to look at turning challenges faced into opportunities in-order to deal with the scourge.

The debate benefitted from a prior report of the Committee on General Purpose on the Bill. The report inter alia indicates that the Bill would essentially facilitate greater access to commodities and services related to HIV and AIDS.

The passage of the Bill is a major score for the civil society who were instrumental in birthing the law. Last week the EALA Committee on General Purpose held public hearings in the Partner States in collaboration with the East African National Networks of AIDS Services Organisation (EANNASO).

In a press dispatch, EANNASO through the Executive Director, Lucy Ng’anga termed the Bill pivotal.

‘Having been in the forefront in this quest to have a regional legislation which would not only harmonize the responses to HIV (including establishing regional and cross –border initiatives) within the region, but also adopt the Rights –based Approach and facilitate universal access, we at EANNASO are excited about this remarkable progress. Our energies are reinvigorated at the prospects of the Bill being tabled for the Second and Third Readings and possibly, passage into a Community Act between April 19th – 20th, 2012 when EALA sits. “Together, we can” Ms. Nganga noted.

The Bill shall now await assent by the EAC Heads of State before it can become an Act of the Community.

EALA meanwhile adjourned debate on the Conflict Management Bill 2011 following a motion of the same by the EAC Council of Ministers. The Bill whose mover is Hon Dr. Odette Nyiramilimo, seeks to operationalise the EAC Conflict Prevention and Resolution Mechanism (CPRM) and to establish a legal framework for co-operation between EAC Partner States in the Conflict Management areas. The Bill draws its genesis from wide ranging consultations arising from a conference on conflict held in Bujumbura in October 2008 which drew the participation of national Parliaments and various ministries including that of Defence and Internal Affairs in the respective States, Civil Society Organizations and the academia.

Debating late today, Hon Peter Munya noted that while the Council of Ministers appreciated the ‘letter and spirit of the Bill’, it nevertheless felt obliged to raise weighty matters it (Council) needed further consultations. Key among them Hon Munya said, is with regards to the deployment of an East African Community Force at a time when the East African Community lacks a clear and common structure. The Minister further added that the clause in the Bill calling for suspension of a Partner State that fails to comply with the Bill was tantamount to amendment of the Treaty in a manner outside Article 150 of the Treaty.

Hon Mugisha Muntu argued that a Bill of this magnitude was long overdue if the region was to stem the conflicts and that the region continued to suffer the brunt of conflict every so often.

Hon Dr. F.L. Masha noted that the Bill needed to be dispensed with as a matter of urgency.

Delivering his ruling on the matter, the Speaker, Rt. Hon Abdirahin Abdi urged the Council to re-double its efforts and to take its work on integration matters more seriously. ‘This Bill is not entirely new, it was introduced in September 2011 and the Council by now ought to have gone through it”, the Speaker remarked.

Parliament continues tomorrow.

Source: East African Community (EAC) – Press Release – 24 April 2012