Laws changed to protect foreigners with HIV

Date: January 1, 1970
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Mauritius showed it commitment to ending discrimination against women and men living with HIV, when on 25 March the government amended three laws that discriminated against foreigners living with HIV, and Mauritians who wanted to marry them. The amendments to the Civil Status Act, the Immigration Act and the HIV and AIDS Act mean that it is now possible for a wedding between a Mauritian and an HIV positive foreigner to happen.

This must be a relief for the Mauritian and the Mozambican couple, whose names have been kept secret during an ongoing public battle, who wanted to get married in August last year. They can now get married and live in Mauritius with their child. The law will henceforth protect this family who has been living in fear for the past eight months. 
Dhiren Moher, activist for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS cannot find words to express his joy. “I was heartbroken when the couple came to see me last year. They could not get married as according to the Civil Status Act all foreigners who want to get married to Mauritians must do an HIV test and if they are HIV positive, they are deported to their countries of origin. The Mozambican woman was tested HIV positive. I never thought I would win this battle, as everything had to be kept in the strict confidence. I could not even disclose their names when I went to see the Attorney General.”
While presenting the amendments of these Acts to the National Assembly on this memorable day of 25 March 2008, Prime Minister, Dr. Navin Ramgoolam said he had no reason to believe that HIV will spread by allowing this kind of wedding.
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Berenger could not agree more with him when he borrowed the words of Nelson Mandela to say “stigmatisation is more harmful that the HIV virus itself.” Rama Valayden, Attorney General and Minister of Human Rights, showed lots of empathy in this human tragedy and soon after his meeting with Moher put all the machineries in place to see the laws amended.
There is a need to hold our governments responsible for commitments and declarations that they sign and this is a good example. Paragraph 58 of the 2001 Abuja Declaration on HIV and AIDS, which Heads of States including the Government of Mauritius signed, reads ass follows.  “By 2003 enact, strengthen or enforce as appropriate legislation, regulations and other measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against, and to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people living with HIV/AIDS.” 
With this document in hand Moher fought tooth and nail, and won. “Laws, declarations and commitments are the tools that we have to defend ourselves but we must know how to use them and we should not abuse them either. The Attorney General and Minister of Human Rights and other government Ministers have been instrumental in our fight against stigmatisation and discrimination of HIV positive people and I thank them for that.” Moher added.
The amendments to these three laws follow a series of measures being put in place by government as they try to align policies with international commitments. For example, by adopting and implementing gender sensitive policies, Mauritius is showing the way in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Article 30 of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, up for review by Heads of State in August 2008 reads,  “State Parties shall take every step necessary to adopt and implement gender sensitive policies and programmes, and enact legislation that will address prevention, treatment, care and support in accordance with, but not limited to the Maseru Declaration on HIV and AIDS.” Even before the signature of this Protocol, the Government of Mauritius had put in place gender sensitive legislation and programmes.
Perhaps more importantly, Mauritius is taking steps to ensure the on the ground implementation of these commitments. The main mode of HIV transmission in Mauritius being through injecting drug use (IUD), the Mauritius HIV and AIDS Act makes provision for a syringe and needle exchange programme as well as a methadone and rehabilitation programme for those who want to go for treatment. Until recently, such a programme was only available to men, due to lack of infrastructure.  
 “There was a gross injustice as only men could get access to this programme. The methadone programme for women was long overdue. It is even more difficult for women to come out and talk about their drug or HIV status. I know lots of women who have been trying to stop using these dirty needles but did not know who to turn to.” Yolette Vyapoory, social worker said.
Satish Faugoo, Minister of Heath, took the bull by the horn when on 10th March 2008 he officially opened a rehabilitation/residential centre for women at the Brown Sequard Hospital.  “The methadone programme will prevent the spread of the HIV virus as these people will no longer use dirty needles although I would prefer to see both women and men not using any substitution therapy. I believe it is important that even after they have left the rehabilitation centres, they have psychological support,” Vyapoory added.
The issue of resources is vital to responding to HIV and AIDS. When the Heads of State meet in August, the SADC Protocol Alliance, comprised of more than 16 organisations and experts from the region, is calling for reference to allocation of resources to be specifically included in the text of the Gender Protocol, whereas the current draft refers only the need to develop and implement policies and programmes. Specific reference to allocation of resources is important, as this is often where laws fail in making differences on the ground.
The amendments to these three laws in Mauritius, and steps being taken to ensure resources are available are steps in the right direction. People Living with HIV, like everyone else, have rights and their human rights and dignity must be henceforth be protected.
Loga Virahsawmy is the President of Media Watch Organisation in Mauritius. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

One thought on “Laws changed to protect foreigners with HIV”

Wangu says:

Nice to learn this. IAM HIV positive and engaged to a Mauritanian guy who’s HIV negative.when I read about restrictions for people living with HIV planing to move to Mauritius I was shocked and felt bad.we postponed our wedding and he’s planning to move to my country instead which he didn’t really want to. Does this now mean I can move to Mauritius with my condition and without restrictions and have access to treatment as it is in my country and many other countries? Has Mauritius lifted the ban on HIV? This stigmatism and discrimination should indeed come to an end.

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