Duty to Warn of the Risk of HIV/AIDS Infection in
Africa: An Appropriate Legal Response?
Dr. Obiajulu Nnamuchi* & Dr. Remigius N. Nwabueze**
At an international colloquium on building local jurisprudence and
expertise for health law in Nigeria,1 one of the authors chaired a group
session composed of health law experts in Nigerian universities, in which
an issue arose as to the existence of a physician’s duty of disclosure with
respect to HIV/AIDS infection in Africa. Starkly presented, the question
was whether a physician who competently diagnosed an African female
patient of HIV/AIDS infection is legally bound to disclose the test result to
the patient’s husband or partner. Quite unsurprisingly, most of the
participants passionately argued against disclosure. But that did not end the
debate that is increasingly assuming center stage in the legal, medical and
bioethical communities of sub-Saharan African countries.2 Concern
amongst scholars in these fields about a female patient suffering from
HIV/AIDS infection reflects the gender inequality and general
disempowerment of women in most African countries.3 In most cases, the
disclosure of HIV status carries untoward consequences for an African
woman, including violence resulting in death or serious injury,
abandonment, and ostracism.4 This means that female victims of
HIV/AIDS are the ones most likely to object to the disclosure of their
seropositive status5 to their husbands or partners.
*Assistant Professor of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Enugu, Nigeria; Chief
Health Policy & System Consultant and President, Centre for Health, Bioethics and Human
Rights (CHBHR) Enugu, Nigeria.
** Senior Lecturer, University of Southampton School of Law, U.K.
1. Colloquium, Building Local Jurisprudence and Expertise on Health Law and
Reproductive Rights (2008).
2. See generally Francis Masiye & Robert Ssekubugu, Routine Third Party Disclosure
of HIV Results to Identifiable Sexual Partners in Sub-Saharan Africa, 29 THEORETICAL MED.
& BIOETHICS 341 (2008); Paul Ndebele et al. HIV/AIDS Reduces the Relevance of the
Principle of Individual Medical Confidentiality among the Bantu People of Southern Africa,
29 THEORETICAL MED. & BIOE THICS 331 (2008).
3. See A. Dhai, HIV and AIDS in Africa: Social, Political and Economic Realities, 29
THEORETICAL MED. BIOETHICS 293, 293-94 (2008).
4. Id. at 294–95.
5. The term “seropositive status” refers to a state of being positive in a test for the