Africa

Activists to UNAIDS boss: Help LGBT Ugandans fight HIV

Ugandan LGBT and Key Populations human rights defenders meet with Michel Sidibe (third from left), executive director of UNAIDS. From left to right: Robert Mukwaya from AWAC, Bernard Sembatya from Vinacef Uganda, Sidibe, Kikonyogo Kivumbi of UHSPA and the UCCM, Mark Illakut from the Uganda Network for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Persons, and Warren Senfuka from Freedom and Roam Uganda. (UHSPA photo)

Ugandan LGBT and Key Populations human rights defenders meet with Michel Sidibe (third from left), executive director of UNAIDS. From left to right: Robert Mukwaya from AWAC, Bernard Sembatya from Vinacef Uganda, Sidibe, Kikonyogo Kivumbi of UHSPA and the UCCM, Mark Illakut from the Uganda Network for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Persons, and Warren Senfuka from Freedom and Roam Uganda. (Uganda Health and Science Press Association photo)

Ugandan HIV activists have asked visiting UNAIDS Global Executive Director Michel Sidibe to urge President Yoweri Museveni and the Ugandan government to overcome “institutionalized discrimination” that limits the Ugandan LGBT community’s access to vital HIV/AIDS care, treatment and support services.

By Kikonyogo Kivumbi

At a meeting with Sidibe on June 7 in Kampala with LGBT, mainstream and Key Populations (KAPS) human  rights defenders, the activists reiterated their strong commitment to working with the government for better HIV/AIDS management in Uganda.

Frank Mugisha (left), executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, poses with Dr. Karungari Karusa Kiragu, the incoming UNAIDS country director for Uganda. (UHSPA photo)

Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the umbrella LGBTI group, said homosexuals in Uganda still  face “unacceptably high HIV/AIDS prevalence and incidences” due to discrimination and fear when seeking health services.

The activists told the UNAIDS chief that, without changing Uganda’s  public health policies and its laws that still treat HIV/AIDS positive people and homosexuals as criminals, the country cannot achieve the global goals of 90-90-90 by the year 2020 and then go on to defeat the pandemic. The UNAIDS 90-90-90 target calls on countries to ensure by the year 2020 that 90 percent of people living with HIV are diagnosed, 90 percent of diagnosed people are put on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have fully suppressed viral load.

At present, the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Act — a law that seeks jail time for spreading HIV, demands mandatory testing and forces disclosure of HIV status — is being contested in Ugandan courts by human rights defenders, who argue that it promotes violence against women and discrimination in the workplace, among other challenges.

Dorah Musinguzi (Photo courtesy of Ninsiima Racheal)

Dorah Musinguzi (Photo courtesy of Ninsiima Racheal)

“The language used by the President and almost all Cabinet ministers, referring to HIV-positive people as traitors and criminals, is so derogatory,” said Dorah Kiconco, the executive director of UGANET, the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS.

She said she worries about the  stigmatization of HIV-positive Ugandans who come forward to make a difference in scaling down the pandemic by offering peer-to-peer counseling to Ugandans, especially men, who have not tested and who are unaware of their HIV status.

Activists told Sidibe that Uganda, which was once a global champion in managing the epidemic, has chosen to see HIV/AIDS infection as a moral issue, rather than an issue of social justice in which victims deserve  treatment, love, care and support.

Rising HIV rates

“There is a 7.3 percent national HIV/AIDS prevalence in Uganda. But in our communities [LGBT, sex workers and injection drug users], prevalence and incidences are soaring,” Mugisha told the meeting.

Uganda is one of a few African countries reporting rising rates of HIV infection among the 60 nations where Pepfar is fighting AIDS. Pepfar is the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief , launched in 2003 by U.S. President George W. Bush.

A new Ugandan government study (obtained by the Erasing 76 Crimes blog and discussed in a Feb. 7 article) indicates that Uganda’s HIV burden has risen from 1.4 million people infected in 2013 to 1.5 million in 2015.

That study, the Uganda HIV and AIDS Country Progress Report by the Uganda AIDS Commission, focused on the period from July 2015 to June 2016. It assessed the first year of implementation of Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan (NSP).

LGBTI Ugandans bear the biggest burden of the HIV pandemic due to harsh, hostile laws and social stigma, which bar gay people from access to health services due to their actual or suspected sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Reports indicate a 13 percent HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM)  as compared to 7.3 percent in the general population.

Celebrating the launch of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's new anti-AIDS campaign on June 6 are (left to right) Esther Lungu, First Lady of Zambia; Museveni; and Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. (Photo courtesy of UNAIDS)

Celebrating the launch of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s new anti-AIDS campaign on June 6 are (left to right) Esther Lungu, First Lady of Zambia; Museveni; and Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. Lungu attended the event to demonstrate a commitment to the fight against AIDS on her own behalf and as a representative of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS. (Photo courtesy of UNAIDS)

Sidibe’s reaction

UNAIDS leader Sidibe was in Uganda for the launch of an ambitious plan to end HIV/AIDS in Uganda, code-named the Presidential Fast Track Initiative on Ending HIV/AIDS in Uganda by 2030. The initiative was launched June 6 in Kampala by President Museveni.

Under this plan, Uganda proposes to attain the 90-90-90 targets, with particular attention to men and young people. To date, Uganda has made tangible progress on reducing the number of children born with HIV by 80 percent. But efforts to have young male adults tested have largely failed, so they keep infecting girls and women ages 15-24.

During the launch of the ambitious plan, Museveni admitted that he is also to blame for having believed that the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) which reports to the President’s Office, was achieving its goals through various HIV-prevention programs, including the earlier ABC Strategy, which stands for Abstinence, Faithfulness among couples and Condom use.

But now, the President said, he was being briefed by Sidibe on availability of new, more effective interventions that can scale down HIV infections.

Sidibe said that, this time around, he believed that Museveni was truly committed to ending HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

Sidibe avoided reacting to activists’ criticism of the moralistic approach to the epidemic, preferring to say that he was meeting with Museveni and all concerns are on the table for discussion.

He thanked the activists for standing tall in extremely difficult circumstances and promised support from UNAIDS in making sure that KAPS representatives are not excluded from efforts to scale down the epidemic.

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2 thoughts on “Activists to UNAIDS boss: Help LGBT Ugandans fight HIV

  1. Pingback: Museveni admits some blame for Uganda’s failing AIDS fight | 76 CRIMES

  2. Pingback: In Uganda, lack of HIV data kills, but change is coming | 76 CRIMES

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