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AIDS rebounds in Uganda with help from anti-gay law

The Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha of the Church of Uganda
The Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha of the Church of Uganda

The HIV infection rate in Uganda is rising again, according to a new survey reported in The New York Times.

The article states:

Uganda’s sharp reduction of its AIDS rate has long been hailed as a Cinderella success story, inspiring a wave of aid programs and public health strategies to fight the disease across the developing world.

But as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here on Thursday, the news on AIDS in Uganda was not so bright: A new American-financed survey says that Uganda is one of only two African countries, along with Chad, where AIDS rates are on the rise.

Reasons given for the reversal include complacency, corruption and intolerance.

“Uganda’s hard-line approach toward homosexuality, which is outlawed here, also fuels the spread of AIDS, experts say,” the article stated. It quoted HIV-positive AIDS activist and Anglican priest the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, who said:

“We have messages confusing what is right with what is safe. If you have an environment that stigmatizes them, then don’t expect people to use condoms.”

Under current Ugandan law, homosexual activity is punishable by life in prison, and the parliament is considering a bill to require citizens to report suspected homosexuals to police.

The stigma against male same-sex activity drives it underground, leading to the creation of a reservoir of infection that can re-infect heterosexual women who sleep with those men. “One report indicated that one-third of the male respondents who had sex with other men [MSM] said they had previously been married to women and fathered children. Fewer than half use condoms,” the article states.

Homosexuals in Uganda are defined as criminals and therefore are often denied health services.

In contrast to the country’s overall HIV infection rate of 7.3 percent, which is up from 6.4 percent in 2005, recent surveys of MSM in Uganda have estimated their HIV rate at 12.4 percent to 32.9 percent.

“Over roughly the same period, the United States, through its AIDS prevention strategy known as Pepfar, or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, spent $1.7 billion in Uganda to fight AIDS,” the Times reported.

It added, “Adult husbands and wives, not youths or commercial sex workers, are the ones spreading the disease, according to the survey. By their late 30s, roughly one in 10 women now become H.I.V. positive. For men, roughly one in 10 are infected by their early 40s.”

For more information, read the full article “In Uganda, an AIDS Success Story Comes Undone.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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