International Development Law Organization

Building the capacity of future lawyers to respond to HIV

In September and October 2017, IDLO and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) organized 2 workshops and a dialogue forum in Uganda and Tanzania convening law students and legal academics to discuss the role of the law in national and global HIV responses. The workshops and dialogue forum are part of IDLO and UNAIDS’ project aiming to build the capacity of future lawyers to provide legal services for people living with HIV (PLHIV), and identify opportunities for universities and clinics to strengthen rights-based responses. 



One of the challenges in bolstering HIV-related legal services is the limited number of knowledgeable, skilled and committed lawyers to provide such services. Given the evolving nature of this area of work with new medical and legal issues emerging, many legal professionals do not have ample opportunity to exchange best practices and learned experiences with each other. In addition, while many universities, including in East Africa, offer clinical legal education programs, these programs often focus on criminal, family and health law, and rarely aim explicitly to build student capacity to address HIV-related legal issues.

Part of the solution lies in building the capacity of law schools to ensure graduates are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to support human rights-based approaches to HIV. 

 IDLO's past work on HIV

Since 2009, IDLO, UNAIDS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have collaborated to strengthen and expand legal services for people living with HIV. In June 2014, IDLO and UNAIDS signed a Cooperation Agreement to scale up joint efforts towards zero HIV discrimination.




IDLO’s project together with UNAIDS, supported by the United States' PEPFAR, aims to strengthen the enabling legal environment for the response to HIV and AIDS in Tanzania and Uganda by building a cadre of lawyers – law professors and students - equipped with the knowledge and skills to support human rights-based responses to HIV. The project also seeks to build legal academics’ awareness of and engagement in HIV and AIDS-related legal issues, and increase community awareness to seek support from the legal clinics.

“It is important to use a multi-sectoral approach to tackling HIV”  - Karusa Kiragu, UNAIDS Country Director Uganda

Current context in East Africa

As many of the legal issues arising in the context of HIV and AIDS are similar in East Africa, sharing relevant knowledge and experiences among the legal profession across the region can be of great benefit. Uganda has made significant strides in putting in place legal protections for people living with HIV. The government has instituted policy frameworks to guide the national response to HIV, including the 2014 HIV Prevention and Control Act. Nonetheless, people living with HIV, including women and girls, still face barriers in access HIV-related legal services.

In Tanzania, there is a robust legal framework protecting the rights of PLHIV, including the Constitution’s provision of non-discrimination, the 2008 HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act and the 2001 National HIV and AIDS Policy. According to the Tanzania National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS, HIV prevalence was estimated at 4.7 per cent in 2013. And in 2016, 40 per cent of new infections occurred in young people aged 15 – 24, with 80 per cent of new infections affecting young girls.

Global situation: HIV and the law

Based on data from governments themselves in a global response to the 2012 National Commitments and Policy Instrument, 60 per cent of countries reported the existence of laws, regulations or policies that present obstacles to effective HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. However, stigma and discrimination remain prevalent and often prevent PLHIV from easily accessing justice. 

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law highlights the need for a conducive legal environment, which can play a powerful role in improving the lives of PLHIV and those affected by HIV. Legal services for people living with HIV can address HIV-related discrimination, protect the rights of PLHIV and support effective treatment, care and prevention. 


IDLO's Regional Manager - New Initiatives Africa Programs, Mr. Romualdo Mavedzenge, speaks at the workshops

Despite these legal and policy frameworks, there are outstanding legal service needs and gaps in service delivery for PLHIV and affected populations in Uganda and Tanzania. As part of the project, IDLO conducted needs assessments for students, legal academics and legal clinic managers within these contexts with a view to informing workshop content tailored to the needs of the participants benefitting from the sessions. 

In both Uganda and Tanzania, students signalled that there was no specific course on HIV-related legal issues available in their universities. Students in Tanzania indicated that their studies did not address socioeconomic issues and the role of the law in addressing HIV and related human rights issues. Respondents in Uganda agreed that there is a need for targeted capacity building workshops, including practical approaches, on legal service provision to PLHIV. 

“We cannot only stick to the bio-medical approach to HIV Prevention” – Dr. Dan Byamukama Uganda AIDS Commission


In response to the needs outlined, IDLO and UNAIDS organized dialogues and workshops in Uganda and Tanzania for law students, professors and legal academics. Workshop sessions ranged from an overview of the national HIV epidemic to the practical application of legal services. In particular, participants learned about legal and ethical issues surrounding HIV-related cases, such as the obligations and responsibilities of relevant stakeholders involved. Sessions also focused on the lived realities of those affected by HIV-related discrimination in social and legal dimensions, the potential for human rights violations to occur, and the legal provisions that exist to respond to them.

To prepare the students for the practical application of lessons, the workshops covered the process of litigating HIV and providing legal services, including the collection of evidence, drafting pleadings and navigating the application of constitutional, regional and international law. As an interactive exercise, students participated in a debate on the role of criminal law in the HIV epidemic. Given the participation of various stakeholders, the workshops also discussed the role of legal academics and how they can support university legal clinics towards a human rights-based response to HIV. 

Supporting future lawyers

Legal education in this area can help to build students’ client skills and familiarity with the legal and social issues faced by PLHIV. After graduation, students will be able to apply this knowledge and these skills, whether they are in government service, the private sector, the community sector, or academia.

Through these tailored interventions, the project seeks to ensure that the upcoming generation of law graduates in East Africa is aware of the social context relating to HIV, equipped with legal knowledge to support rights-based responses, and inspired to become agents of justice in their communities.

Are we going to continue to be hosts for disease burden in Uganda or are we going to find a solution and fast –track our HIV response!” – Hon. Judith Alyek, Chair HIV Parliamentarian Committee, Uganda

The workshop group in Uganda

The workshop group in Tanzania

Photo credit: UNAIDS

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