Kampala, Ouganda (AFP) — A court in Uganda on Friday upheld the conviction for criminal negligence of a HIV-infected nurse who inserted a needle into a two-year-old child after pricking herself, but ordered she be given early release from prison.
The case has sharply divided Ugandans, with some newspapers branding 64-year-old Rosemary Namubiru a “killer nurse” and accusing her of knowingly trying to infect the patient, but HIV/AIDS activists asserting she is a victim of growing stigmatisation.
The child has not tested positive for HIV.
During Friday’s hearing, High Court Justice Albert Rugadya-Atwooki upheld Namubiru’s conviction, which was delivered in May, but ruled Namubiru had served enough time in prison.
The nurse was sentenced to three years in prison and has so far spent nearly a year behind bars. Her lawyer said efforts to overturn the conviction would continue.
“We don’t accept the conviction,” said lawyer Steven Senkeezi. “But (the judge) has agreed with us that the sentence was excessive so he has reduced it and because of that now she’s already served her sentence to the full.”
Senkeezi said he was “happy” about Namubiru’s release, which comes ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1.
Namubiru broke down outside the court.
“You know the way he (the judge) read all the evidence, I had given up,” she told AFP, just before embracing her niece at the court. “It sounds incredible. I have no words.”
But she lashed out at some media outlets who accused her of knowingly trying to infect the patient at a Kampala medical centre in January.
“I’ve been fed up with these news people, the camera people. They’ve written a lot of nonsense about me, pulling blood from my vein… I’m an old woman,” she said.
Namubiru was jailed a week after the Ugandan Parliament passed new legislation that criminalises the deliberate transmission of HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS. Activists say the move will exacerbate stigma like the type the nurse experienced and that they are still deciding whether to challenge it in court.
“Rosemary Namubiru’s conviction was a complete miscarriage of justice, driven by HIV stigma and criminalisation,” said Asia Russell, executive director at advocacy group Health GAP.
“The decision today is one important victory, but clearly the conviction should have been vacated as well. Her tragic case has exposed toxic HIV stigma caused by HIV criminalisation in Uganda today that is undermining an effective response to the AIDS crisis,” she said.
Infection rates in the east African country initially dropped from double to single digits. But according to the most recent statistics, from 2011, the national prevalence rate rose to 7.3 per cent from 6.4 per cent in 2004-05 — with health officials blaming increased complacency.