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Uganda nurse allegedly spreads HIV deliberately, case reflects lax hospital protocol

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A nurse in Uganda is facing criminal charges for allegedly spreading HIV to a young hospital patient.

The Uganda press has already called 64-year old Rosemary Namubiru as the "killer nurse" following allegations that she deliberately infected a two-year old patient with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is notably known for causing AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a fatal and incurable disease.

The AIDS-Free World, an international AIDS advocacy organization which has been following the trial, said that the incident happened on Jan. 7. The group said that Namubiru, who is HIV positive, was trying to give an injection to the patient when she accidentally pricked her finger with the needle. Namubiro fixed her finger but it appeared that instead of using a different needle, she went on to use the same contaminated needle when she administered the injection to the child.

The group said that the patient's mother suspected that Namubiru used the same needle and became concerned that her child may have been exposed to HIV. Namubiru was arrested when a test confirmed that she was HIV positive.

The incident underscores the dangers of lax hospital protocols and reflects the poor hospital standards that many believe to be prevalent in the country. Notably, however, the patient's mother and the hospital did not allege that Namubiru intended to hurt the child.

"Neither the mother nor the hospital alleged that Rosemary had any intention of harming the child," AIDS-Free World said in a statement.

Namubiru has been in prison since Jan. 7 and was denied bail as prosecutors say she poses grave threat to the public. If convicted of criminal negligence, Namubiru will spend seven years in jail. She would also become the first medical worker in Uganda who is sentenced under a colonial era law for spreading an infectious disease due to negligence.

AIDS-Free World, however, said in a statement that Namubiru's case could act as a dangerous precedent that could have serious implications on the right of people who have HIV and AIDS.

"The implications of this case are far- reaching: the Namubiru case appears to be the first in Uganda's courts dealing directly with HIV exposure and transmission," AIDS-Free World said [pdf]. "Efforts to criminalize HIV transmission, and the failure of both the media and the prosecutor's office to act responsibly, set a dangerous precedent and could have grave consequences for the fundamental rights of people living with HIV and AIDS in Uganda and beyond."

Meanwhile, the two-year old patient had been given post-exposure treatment and will again undergo HIV tests in the coming days.

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