Positive steps in Ugandan fight against AIDS among LGBTs

Spectrum-BIGGER-Uganda-logoEfforts are under way to improve HIV prevention efforts for LGBT people in Uganda who are included among those most at risk of infection.

In one initiative, The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) hosted a two-day workshop by the LGBT advocacy group Spectrum Uganda, designed to dispel misunderstandings and hatred among TASO staff that have often hindered access to health care for men who have sex with men (MSM).

In another initiative, a group of anti-AIDS organizations in Uganda appealed for stronger government action focused on many at-risk groups, including men who have sex with men. (For more information, see their press release, a Word document, and their report, a PDF file.)

The group of 18 organizations, including TASO, the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and Spectrum Uganda, said  that recent anti-AIDS work has reversed a setback during 2006-2012, when the HIV infection rate rose from 6.4 percent to 7.3 percent.

The good news is that “Enrollment has expanded from 372,785 patients on treatment in June 2012 to 566,460 on treatment by June 2013” — a dramatic increase of nearly 200,000 people.

But they said much more is needed “to begin to end AIDS in Uganda.”

Now the group’s focus is on at-risk people, including MSM, fishing communities, couples with one HIV-positive partner, sex workers, adolescent girls, truck drivers and drug users.

In particular, the organizations noted the harm caused by stigma and subsequent limitations on health care for at-risk people because of continued discussion of the proposed:

  • Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would penalize LGBT people and their acquaintances, and
  • The HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which would impose mandatory HIV tests for  pregnant women, victims of sexual assault, drug users and sex workers, and criminal penalties for HIV-positive people who do not disclose their status to sexual partners.

The statement added:

Uganda’s policy and legal environment must be improved to support positive living with dignity and an evidence based, public health approach to

Kikonyogo Kivumbi (Photo courtesy of UHSPA)
Kikonyogo Kivumbi (Photo courtesy of UHSPA)

fighting HIV—stigma and shame drive people at greatest risk of HIV infection underground, outside the reach of life saving services. Harmful bills such as the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill and the Anti Homosexuality Bill must be scrapped, and instead the regional HIV/AIDS act for East Africa—already assented to by the President—should be used as our national standard.

“The coverage gap among most vulnerable groups is gravely concerning, along with the public health impact of the discrimination and human rights violations they face,” said Kikonyogo Kivumbi of Uganda Health and Science Press Association, which signed the statement.

Donors such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund must increase their focus on at-risk groups, the organizations said.

TASO and Spectrum Uganda

TASO logo
TASO logo

The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) invited Spectrum Uganda to present its workshop on LGBT people after the advocacy organization presented a similar educational workshop to the health workers of the Kampala Capital City Authority.

As reported by the Sebaspace blog, here are excerpts from Spectrum Uganda’s description of the workshop, which challenged “the myth that homosexuality is imported and doesn’t exist in Uganda”:

[Gay men at the workshop] assured the staff that actually they were born gay and weren’t influenced to be so. Some of  the TASO staff really didn’t know that gay people are actually real in Uganda. Initially some even left the room, on the impression that Spectrum was trying to preach and promote homosexuality in Uganda.

TASO staff posed all kind of questions ranging from what gay people look like, what sort of sex they have, how they relate with the rest of the community, where they stay , how they dress, walk, if they have religions, believe in God, have culture/family, if they have real relationships, experience domestic violence and so on.

All the questions were answered carefully and Spectrum reports that the TASO staff came round to understand that gay people didn’t deserve to be hated or discriminated against, but rather needed to be embraced. During the workshop, one of the men having sex with men (MSM) helped  the TASO participants reflect on an often glossed-over reality that is the root-cause of much of the spread of HIV in Uganda:

“We sleep with your husbands — they call us in the middle of the night. In the morning we meet your sons and in the evening your daughters, and the following night yourselves. Yet when we come to health centers you discriminate against us, not knowing that the results of this sexual network affects you all.” …

By the end of the workshop, the 20 counselors and doctors reached a consensus of serving LGBTI persons with no finger-pointing and agreed to be as friendly as never before and to even go ahead and train peer educators in order to reach all corners of MSM.

For more information, see the full article  “The Ugandan LGBTI HIV/Aids fight is joined by TASO.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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