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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Botswana plans HIV disclosure law
South African children
Aids has devastated Southern Africa
Botswana, devastated by Aids in the past decade, is reported to be introducing a new law compelling HIV carriers to disclose their status to their sexual partners

Health Minister Joy Phumaphi told UN officials that the new law would be introduced by the government as part of efforts to change the sexual behaviour of Botswana's population.

However, fears are being expressed that the criminalising of Aids behaviour can be both unworkable and drive the pandemic underground.

The minister also announced an ambitious weekly counselling programme on the disease for Botswana's 1.5 million people, starting in September.

According to UNAids, the United Nations' programme on Aids, more than one in three adults in Botswana are now infected with the HIV virus or have Aids.

Laws 'ineffective'

UNAids official David Miller told BBC News Online that counselling was likely to be a far more successful way to tackle the Aids problem than legislation which can prove unworkable.

He said UNAids had found that the criminalising of behaviour can discourage people from seeking testing and treatment. It can also lead to a climate of silence and fear, driving the pandemic underground.

He said that by far the most effective measures were those that encourage openness and voluntary disclosure to partners.

The minister said the law forcing those infected to disclose their illness was not "going to interfere with people's rights".

"We only want legislation to compel an HIV positive person to disclose his status to his sex partner. Having sex with a person without informing them will be criminal offence."

The door-to-door counselling programme is expected to cost $4.5m during the the first three years, and counsellors will be trained for every town and village in the country.

The government has also said it plans to offer full and costly anti-retroviral treatment for pregnant women.

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