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Uganda's 'anti-homosexuality bill' would be disastrous for HIV response

Fri, 23 Nov 2012 16:09 GMT
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The International HIV/AIDS Alliance warned today that Uganda’s “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” would have a disastrous impact on the country’s HIV response if it becomes law.

The Ugandan Parliament is poised to pass a bill which would see any person alleged to be homosexual at risk of life imprisonment.  Other clauses within the bill mean that the reputation of anyone working with the gay or lesbian population such as medical doctors working on HIV and AIDS and civil society leaders active in the field of sexual and reproductive health could be severely compromised.

If the bill is passed it could lead to even more HIV infections in marginalised populations, especially among men who have sex with men.  They will be prevented from having access to essential public health information, such as how to protect themselves from HIV and how to access life saving treatment and support services that are stigma-free.

With an HIV prevalence rate of 6.5% Uganda is a country where a large number of people living with HIV do not know their status and where access to treatment is still below 60%.  Recent national data indicates a decline in condom use and public health programming generally is impeded due to the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour and the related widespread stigma.  Denying men who have sex with men and transgender people access to HIV-related services puts all of the country’s citizens at risk.

The passing of the bill would be in stark contradiction to the Ugandan government’s previous outward concern about the impact of discriminatory legislation on HIV.  Last September, Commonwealth Ministers of Foreign Affairs, including Uganda, agreed that “Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a process of repeal of such laws.”

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law recently presented incontrovertible evidence that discriminatory legislation such as criminalization of homosexuality has a devastating impact and enhances HIV-related risks among men who have sex with men and other vulnerable groups most at risk of the epidemic.  As the latest UNAIDS report on the Global Epidemic published this week indicates, it is such politically and socially isolated groups who bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic. 

The Commission also stressed the need to have “laws that protect human rights to save lives, save money and end the epidemic.” 

According to Christine Stegling, Associate Director of Best Practice at the Alliance: “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill has massive implications for delivery of HIV and broader health services in Uganda.  An adverse legal environment where most at risk groups face being criminalised for their behaviour and made a target for harassment and violence is not the answer if we want to see the epidemic brought under control.

“To see a truly effective HIV response, civil society and health care providers have to be in a position to be able to work with all marginalised groups and be able to provide stigma-free services.  It would be ironic if it wasn’t so tragic that World AIDS Day – a day when people worldwide unite in the fight against HIV – occurs next week.  If the bill is passed, it will change the course of the epidemic in the country in completely the wrong direction and put the lives of thousands at risk.”

The Alliance has been working in Uganda since January 2005 to increase access to quality HIV services for all.

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