Africa

Finally, an LGBT voice on Uganda’s anti-HIV panel

Old and new representatives to the Uganda CCM health panel pose amicably after the Feb. 18 election: from left to right: Kikonyogo Kivumbi, newly elected UCCM representative; Blessed Naturinda, staff member of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA); outgoing representative Geofrey Mujisha; and new alternate representative Jude Ayebare. (Photo courtesy of UHSPA)

Old and new representatives to the Uganda CCM health panel pose amicably after the Feb. 18 election (from left to right): Kikonyogo Kivumbi, newly elected UCCM representative; Blessed Naturinda, staff member of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA); outgoing representative Geofrey Mujisha; and new alternate representative Jude Ayebare. (Photo courtesy of UHSPA)

People most at risk for HIV infection finally have a voice on the Ugandan  health policy panel that makes crucial decisions about anti-AIDS projects.

Following an election process that ran from Dec. 10 to Feb. 18, Kikonyogo Kivumbi today took a seat on the Uganda Country Coordinating Mechanism (UCCM) panel as a representative for LGBT people, sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and intravenous drug users.

Bulletin board at New Hope Clinic in Uganda promotes a combination of Jesus, Mary and "HIV meds" in the battle against HIV. (Andy Kopsa photo courtesy of The Nation)

Bulletin board at New Hope Clinic in Uganda promotes a combination of Jesus, Mary and “HIV meds” in the battle against HIV. (Andy Kopsa photo courtesy of The Nation)

Jude Ayebare was also elected as an alternate on the UCCM panel to speak for people whose livelihoods make them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, including fishing communities, truckers and uniformed services personnel.

The goal is to improve anti-AIDS efforts among key affected populations (KAPs), which have often been ignored or excluded from past HIV education and services programs that the UCCM panel oversees.

That’s one of the reasons why the at-risk population of Ugandan men who have sex with men (MSM) has an estimated HIV infection rate of 12 percent to 33 percent, compared to 7.3 percent for Ugandans overall.

Recognizing that lack of CCM representation often translates into lack of health care for at-risk populations, the Global Fund, which is one of the largest health-care funders in Uganda, has started requiring every nation’s CCM to include representatives of those most at-risk.

LGBT advocates have been seeking a seat on the UCCM since 2010, according to Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).

Meeting of Uganda's Country Coordinating Mechanism panel on March 5, 2015 -- the first one with an official representative of LGBT Ugandans. (Photo courtesy of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association)

Meeting of Uganda’s Country Coordinating Mechanism health panel on March 5, 2015 — the first one that included an official representative of LGBT Ugandans. (Photo courtesy of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association)

The election of Kivumbi and Ayebare on Feb. 18 as representatives of was held in accord with a procedure established  by the UCCM secretariat during a Jan. 21 consultative meeting at the Uganda AIDS Commission, where it was decided “that bye-elections be conducted until KAPs are convinced about who their representatives to the UCCM are.”

A first bye-election was held Feb. 5, but it was boycotted by LGBT groups.  Afterwards, Prof. Vinand Nantulya, who chairs the UCCM, received many complaints about the election process and results. In response, the UCCM, with support from the U.N. AIDS agency, organized the second bye-election on Feb. 18, which was attended by all 40 delegates of KAP groups.

Nantulya told Aidspan:

“Uganda is a poor country; the Global Fund money is important for us. Surely we can sort out this and avoid a protracted war that does not serve anybody any good and actually does harm to our country.“

The representatives who had been elected in the Feb. 5 bye-election stepped aside and the two new representatives were elected —  Kivumbi, the executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association, and Ayebare, representing Ugandan fishing communities.

Also on Feb. 18, delegates unanimously resolved to keep MARPs Network’s secretariat as a coordinator for the country’s eight KAP constituencies and as a  link between them and the UCCM.

The Global Fund has allocated $275.6 million for Uganda’s battles against tuberculosis and HIV for the period 2014-2017.

7 thoughts on “Finally, an LGBT voice on Uganda’s anti-HIV panel

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