Uganda’s anti-gay law will make AIDS harder to fight

Abby Love (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Abby Love, a transgender sex worker whose AIDS-related death last year led to the formation of the Come Out Post-Test Club. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The work of AIDS fighters in Uganda had grown more difficult because of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, even before the government announced that President Yoweri Museveni would sign it into law.

Many LGBT people are again afraid to go to health clinics, even the ones that in recent years had gradually been persuaded to serve them, because sexual minorities are increasingly treated as criminals.

“We are trying to work underground, but now the challenge is that we have so much more work to do than before,” said Frank Kamya, a leader of the anti-AIDS group Come Out Post-Test Club, which serves dozens of transgender women sex workers in Kampala. “All our members are relying on us now, not like before when they could access some health facilities themselves. But now they are living in fear, panic and tension.”

Frank Kamya

Frank Kamya, one of the leaders of the Come Out Post-Test Club

“We now have to provide them services ourselves,” Kamya said. “Now the challenge is that all that needs funds, which we don’t have at all.”

The overall rate of HIV infection in Uganda is about 6.5 percent, but for Ugandan men who have sex with men, it ranges from an estimated 12.4 percent to 32.9 percent.

LGBT-friendly anti-AIDS organizations, such as Spectrum Uganda, the Good Samaritan Consortium and the Post-Test Club, fear that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) has reversed their recent progress in convincing some Ugandan health professionals to treat LGBT patients.

“Many things changed after the passage of the AHB,” said one Ugandan transgender HIV activist. That includes reduced access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication for HIV-positive patients. “Many of us are positive and we can’t now access ARVs because of the bill. We all fear to go and pick up our meds because of the AHB.”

The clinics are also afraid to serve LGBTI patients because of the bill, the activist said. “Doctors said they have no meds for anal gonorrhea. … I knew it’s because they knew I was gay that they refused.”

An upsurge of arrests of alleged homosexuals accompanied the passage of the bill, and Ugandan politicians began advocating for a constitutional change that would deny bail to people accused of violating the country’s existing anti-sodomy law.

The O-blog-dee advocacy blog describes the situation thus:

The severe impact of this bill has started eroding way the efforts to combat HIV-AIDS and STDS among sexual minorities in Uganda. Health service providers are steadily pulling out in this struggle for fear of their lives and jobs. Spectrum-BIGGER-Uganda-logo
The Bill, though yet to see finality into law, is already driving people underground, and will continue to disrupt the collection and dissemination of accurate and imperative information.

Threats, hateful speeches and discrimination from religious leaders, politicians and even biased media are increasing and resulting into insecurity to peer educators, staff and LGBTI community, which is hampering health service delivery. When this law is enacted, it is anticipated, according to Spectrum, that it will get even worse.

The nation’s LGBT communities — excluded from most health clinics and with little access to information about HIV/AIDS — suffer from higher HIV infection rates than the national average. The national HIV rate is about 7.5 percent, but the rate for men who have sex with men (MSM) is estimated at about 13 percent.

Before the AHB was passed, signs of progress had included:

  • Uganda’s new strategic plan for the fight against HIV/AIDS mentions MSM and sex workers among the most-at-risk groups needing attention.
  • The Ministry of Health is conducting a survey of the unmet health needs of Uganda’s most-at-risk populations. “We are happy the Ministry of Health is committed to establishing clinics for MSM and sex workers in Kampala,” said Moses Kimbugwe, an activist with Spectrum Uganda, as reported by Inter Press Service.
  • Maxensia Nakibuuka

    Maxensia Nakibuuka

    In December, Uganda’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, named HIV-positive lay leader Maxensia Nakibuuka to coordinate the church’s AIDS programs in Uganda. She founded and runs the Lungujja Community Health Caring Organisation, which treats both gay and straight patients. “This is a window opened to us to ensure quality service delivery to all, especially the hard-to-reach and most-at-risk communities in Uganda, irrespective of their sexual orientation,” Nakibuuka said.

Now that progress is under serious threat. LGBT-friendly anti-AIDS groups are seeking funds to bolster both their security and their ability to serve LGBT patients who are again cut off from traditional health care in Uganda.

An earlier version of this article appeared in January, before the announcement that Museveni will sign the bill into law.

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About Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart, a 40-year journalism veteran, is publisher and an editor of the "Erasing 76 Crimes" blog. More profile information on Google+. Colin Stewart, un vétéran du journalisme de 40 ans, est éditeur et rédacteur en chef du blog "Erasing 76 Crimes." Plus d'informations de profil sur Google+.
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11 Responses to Uganda’s anti-gay law will make AIDS harder to fight

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