Uganda activists fear Aids setback amid gay clampdown

2014-01-22 07:28

(Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Kampala - Branded as "abnormal" and with politicians baying for blood, Uganda's gay community is being pushed further underground in what could be a setback for the fight against Aids, medical and rights activists say.

Last week Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni refused to approve a controversial bill that would have seen homosexuals jailed for life even after lawmakers removed an extremely controversial death penalty clause. The president's decision was greeted with measured relief among gays.

But far from approving of homosexuality, the president merely conceded that they have a right to exist, and branded them "sick" genetic freaks. He also said lesbians were victims of "sexual starvation" because of their failure to find a man.

For Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda's most prominent gay activists, homosexuals are being driven into leading dangerous double lives and therefore indulging in risky sexual practices.

"The ones who wanted to come out will not dare to come out anymore," Mugisha said.

"African culture dictates that you have to marry in a heterosexual relationship and have children. And gay people are not going to stop having sex," he said. "HIV is going to be on the increase [and] people will start dying."

Uganda was once heralded as a success story in the fight against HIV. Museveni, one of the first African leaders to speak openly about AIDS, mounted a highly successful public awareness campaign in the late 1980s and 1990s, slashing the HIV infection rate from more than 20% to single digits.

Gays are far from being the main vector for HIV transmission in the country, health workers say, adding that heterosexual contact, in particular sex workers, continue to be the main cause.

Total disaster

But they say the ongoing debate in Uganda surrounding the anti-gay bill, which has had the backing of influential evangelical Christian and other religious groups, would damage their efforts to reach out to the gay community.

"We are going one step forward and then ten steps back," said Milly Katana, a public health specialist and Aids activist who is herself living with HIV. "As far as HIV prevention is concerned, we are heading for a total disaster. It's a crisis."

Even if the law has been blocked, for the time being at least, health workers were alarmed by parliament's insistence that it be mandatory to denounce anyone known to be homosexual.

The provision was a reflection of what is already a reality in Uganda, where tabloid newspapers frequently expose alleged gays.

In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on its front page along with a yellow banner reading "Hang Them".

"We have communities that are at risk of contracting HIV and we put punitive measures in place against them and also against people who work with them. They will not be able to talk to people who are able to advise them on how to protect themselves," Katana said.

"We public health workers cannot do our job," she added.

Bildard Baguma, deputy secretary general at the Uganda Red Cross, agreed that there were consequences to the wave of homophobia.

"The issue of access becomes a problem," he said. "If these people go underground and can't access services, then it is likely to have a negative effect on the epidemic."

At the Aids Information Centre in Kampala, staff have also been deeply worried over the impact on access to public health facilities for those most at risk - notably sex workers where HIV prevalence is 33%, and male homosexuals where prevalence is 12%.

Tough legislation

"When these communities blend with the population, they tend to cause transmission of HIV," said Raymond Byaruhanga, a doctor who runs the centre.

"Therefore, it results in an increase of HIV prevalence in the wider community," he added, saying the general climate of repression against homosexuals was among several reasons that HIV rates in Uganda are creeping up again for the first time in two decades.

Other problems include complacency - the sentiment that HIV infection is not that bad given the availability of anti-retroviral medication - and misconceptions about the benefits of male circumcision.

According to the most recent figures, from 2011, the national prevalence rate rose to 7.3% from 6.4% in 2004-05 - and this prompted the Ugandan health ministry to announce earlier this year that it would open special clinics aimed at the communities most at risk of infection.

"If you don't target them... they will get infected and spread it," said Alex Ario, the doctor in charge of the healthy ministry's Aids control programme.

"It will make our work more complicated," Ario said of the push for tough legislation, "because we won't be able to talk about the issues".

Read more on:    yoweri museveni  |  uganda  |  gay rights  |  east africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Music
 

17 photo illusions that look so real

What if they aren’t illusions? What if that dog really has a human foot – then what?

 
 

For chic geeks...

It’s THIS easy for someone to steal your ATM pin!
Check out the speed of this robo-cheetah!
New GIF keyboard on iOS for added fun!
Puppy goes crazy over iPad game

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at kalahari.com

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at kalahari.com

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a tendency to fight against the current today but this will just use up a lot of energy and not get you very far. You...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.