Uganda's "anti-homosexuality" bill will have a disastrous impact on country's HIV response

by International HIV/AIDS Alliance | @theaidsalliance | International HIV/AIDS Alliance - UK
Friday, 20 December 2013 13:55 GMT

The criminalisation of same sex relations has huge implications for the HIV response. Credit: International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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The passing of the bill is likely to lead to even more HIV infections in marginalised populations, especially among men who have sex with men and transgender people.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance warned today that Uganda’s "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" will have a disastrous impact on the country’s HIV response and urged President Museveni not to sign the bill into law.

The Ugandan Parliament today passed a bill that 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.

The passing of the bill is likely to lead to even more HIV infections in marginalised populations, especially among men who have sex with men and transgender people. 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. The Alliance calls on the HIV community to mobilise to express their opposition to the bill becoming law.

The passing of the bill is in stark contradiction to the Ugandan government’s previous outward concern about the impact of discriminatory legislation on HIV.  Commonwealth Ministers of Foreign Affairs, including Uganda, had previously 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 has 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.  It is such politically and socially isolated groups who bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic.  The Commission has also stressed the need to have "laws that protect human rights to save lives, save money and end the epidemic."

According to Enrique Restoy, Senior Advisor on Human Rights 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.  The passing of this bill threatens to change the course of the epidemic in the country in completely the wrong direction and put the lives of thousands at risk."

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