Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bahati Bill Denies HIV/AIDS Treatment and Education

Image from Uganda Versus The Modern Day World

There has been a huge amount of scrutiny over how the recently adopted Bahati Bill will affect HIV/AIDS treatment in Uganda, a country quick to undo its previous progress on this issue.

During 2013 Spectrum Uganda Initiatives Inc. provided health care and related services to Uganda’s LGBTI and HIV/AIDS community. The group reached close to 500 men who have sex with other men (MSM) with HIV/AIDS/STD prevention, treatment, care and support services  in Central, Eastern, Western and Northern  areas of Kampala , Wakiso, Mpigi , Entebbe , Mukono,  Busia , Bududa , Arua and Hoima districts...

On 20th December 2013 the Ugandan Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which entrenches hatred and discrimination against those who are, or who are believed to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)...

The severe impact of this bill has started eroding way the efforts to combat HIV-AIDS and STDS among sexual minorities in Uganda.  Health service providers are steadily pulling out in this struggle for fear of their lives and jobs. The Bill, though yet to see finality into law,  is already driving people underground, and will continue to disrupt the collection and dissemination of accurate and imperative information.

Threats, hateful speeches and discrimination from religious leaders, politicians and even biased media are increasing and resulting into insecurity to  peer educators, staff and LGBTI community, which is hampering health service delivery. When this law is enacted, it is anticipated, according to Spectrum, that it will get even worse.

The draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed by Uganda’s parliament on 20 December would deliver a major blow to the response to HIV/AIDS if it was enacted by President Yoweri Museveni, activists have warned. Those found guilty of homosexual acts can be jailed for up to 14 years under the new law, a sentence that increases to life in “aggravated” cases, such as those committed by an HIV positive person, or those involving minors, the disabled and serious offenders.

Civil society activists fear that high-risk groups such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and sex workers – whose HIV prevalence is 13.7 and 33 percent respectively – will see their already limited access to prevention and treatment further eroded.

Amnesty International called the law “a grave assault on human rights [which] makes a mockery of the Ugandan constitution...

Pepe Julian Onziema, programme director, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a local rights group

“It's with deep disappointment that I receive the news of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passing in our Parliament.”

“If the bill is assented to, the Act would spell a major setback for Uganda's gains against HIV/AIDS as it will compromise doctor-patient confidentiality, which will push affected LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) persons further underground for fear of prosecution.”

The article goes on to list 'a selection of reactions from those working on the frontline of the response to HIV/AIDS.'

Reporter Wambi Michael takes a more personal approach on the ground, talking to local health workers and LGBTI service users:

At an unremarkable office on Bukoto Street in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, health workers and civil society activists attend a regular meeting to offer information and advice on living with HIV and AIDS. What is unusual is that these information sessions cater to a group of around 50 transgender women...

The turning point for the group [Come Out Post-Test Club] was in April [2013] when a colleague, Abbey Mukasa Love, died.

“Abby wouldn’t have died if the nurses and doctors had not stigmatised her,” says Black. “They wrote the word ‘gay’ on her file. We decided to come out and form a support group and 20 of us began holding meetings every Sunday. We would invite some people to talk to us about treatment and prevention. It was not easy for many of us to come out.”

It is clear that the bill is not only damaging to LGBTI freedom, but to public health and the Ugandan economy.

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