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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

HIV Crisis Mounts in Uganda amidst Anti-Gay Law Causes LGBT Lockdown

President Yoweri Museveni's new law punishes gay intercourse with a life sentence in jail

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UGANDA: Uganda passed an anti-gay law, leaving the HIV/AIDS treatment facility in Kampala nearly empty. Staff report that the daily average of 50 patients has stopped, and antiretroviral medications accumulate when not utilised. The medical officer at the clinic, Andrew Tendo, warned of fresh HIV infections as vulnerable individuals avoided treatment facilities.

The LGBT community in Uganda is facing a lockdown due to President Yoweri Museveni’s new law, which punishes gay intercourse with a life sentence in jail and “aggravated homosexuality” with the death penalty.

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The Kampala clinic served as a symbol of progress in the battle against HIV, with 1.4 million people infected and 17,000 people dying every year, as per the state-run Uganda AIDS Commission.

Uganda’s health minister has refuted a US official’s claim that the law would undo the country’s progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, saying that preventive services will continue to be available to anyone who needs them.

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US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) country director Mary Borgman claims that fear has become a bigger barrier for individuals to seek therapy due to the anti-gay measure tabled in parliament in March. This is reflected in the trend of HIV patients avoiding treatment facilities.

The 27-year-old gay male expressed his dismay at the new laws, fearing that PEPFAR will cut off funding for the free services they have been receiving.

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US President Joe Biden instructed his National Security Council to assess the consequences of US involvement with Uganda, particularly PEPFAR, following Museveni’s signing of the legislation.

PEPFAR donated $418.4 million to Uganda’s budget for HIV/AIDS treatment during the 2021-2022 fiscal year. This project has been crucial to Uganda’s accomplishments in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including a tenfold decline in mother-to-child HIV transmission. 

According to PEPFAR, between 2004 and 2022, its assistance with the expansion of antiretroviral therapies prevented 600,000 deaths due to HIV. The American administration is aware of the effects of any funding reductions on vulnerable populations, particularly LGBTQ Ugandans, said Borgman.

The Ugandan bill strengthened a British colonial-era legislation that already forbade homosexual relations. According to the supporters of the anti-gay law, the legalisation is necessary to combat efforts by Ugandans who identify as LGBTQ to persuade young people to become homosexual.

A medical officer at Kampala clinic spoke to the media about the anxieties of LGBTQ individuals in Uganda, who often face rejection and arrests. He said they don’t want to be in a place where they could be searched or imprisoned at any time.

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