Uganda: Raided clinic reopens with scaled-back services

Logo du Projet Walter Reed de l'Université de Makerere
Logo of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, which was raided by Ugandan police.

The AIDS clinic that closed last month in Uganda after a police raid has reopened, but now offers fewer services to men who have sex with men (MSM).
The clinic — officially an HIV research facility in Kampala run by the U.S. military and Makerere University — had been one of relatively few health-care facilities in the city that willingly treated LGBT people.
The clinic is no longer serving MSM directly, but has made arrangements for those HIV-positive patients to receive necessary medication elsewhere, two Ugandan activists said.  The project also has not resumed the research it was conducting on how best to reduce the spread of HIV infection among high-risk groups, including MSM, they said.
An additional problem is that the MSM patients must pose as heterosexuals in order to receive their anti-retroviral medication at the new location, one activist said.
“It’s traumatizing,” he said. “They have to hide their identity and orientation.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. military’s HIV research program said:

MUWRP [Makerere University Walter Reed Project] reopened its facilities and resumed most of its research activities by the end of April. Prevention, care, and treatment activities supported by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief are all operating at full capacity. The Vice Chancellor of Makerere University has been very supportive of MUWRP.
Ugandan partners are working with the Uganda health authorities to ensure the vitality of MUWRP’s HIV health care delivery services and research efforts.
MUWRP and MHRP [Military HIV Research Program] remain committed to improving the public health of Uganda.

One activist working with low-income LGBT people in Kampala said that  the biggest challenge for this community is lack of access to safe-sex consumables such as lubricants and condoms, which they used to get for free at the Walter Reed clinic.
Those are not provided by the new hospital where they now receive HIV medication, he said.
After the April 3 raid, the U.S. State Department blamed the Ugandan government for the actions that led to the temporary closing.
In a press statement, Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said:

Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department.
Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson of the U.S. State Department.

We are deeply concerned that a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility … was raided by Ugandan authorities on April 3, leading to the arrest of one of the facility’s employees, allegedly for conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals.”
While that individual was subsequently released, this incident significantly heightens our concerns about respect for civil society and the rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals.
The MUWRP is engaged in efforts to improve public health and save lives.
The Ugandan government is responsible for protecting all of its people, and attacks and intimidation of health care workers are unacceptable.
The safety of health workers must be respected. We have temporarily suspended the operations of MUWRP to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program.

The raid was the first prominent assault on an AIDS health center after the enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which provides a life sentence for homosexual activity and seven years in prison for anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality.”

Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo (Photo courtesy of UgandaPicks.com)
Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo (Photo courtesy of UgandaPicks.com)

The project was targeted for “training youths in homosexuality,” Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said.
Uganda police claimed that the MUWRP project:

  • “Targeted youth between the ages of 18 and 25.”
  • Showed its trainees “videos of men engaging in homosexual activity, and they were encouraged to bring along their sexual partners.”
  • Gave trainees “literature describing safe sexual practice between males, as well as condoms and lubricant.”
  • Paid trainees “UGX 10,000 to UGX 100,000 [US$4 to $40] as transport refund, at the end of each training session.”
  • Showed “a same-sex pornographic film” to “a large number of participants.”

Ugandan media described the raid as “Police bust Homosexual training camp in Kampala.”
A research fellow at Makerere University said that police who raided the clinic didn’t know enough to understand how researchers recruit and work with people involved in their research.
The police believed they were seeing men being “recruited into homosexuality” when they were actually seeing homosexual men being recruited into a research project aimed at slowing the spread of AIDS, she said.

 

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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