Anti-Homosexual Legislation in Uganda and the Effects on HIV Patients Seeking Medical Care

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Figure 1: Map created by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association illustrating the persecution of homosexuality in some African countries.

In 2009, a bill was introduced before the Ugandan parliament to criminalize homosexuality as an offense punishable by death.  The bill was never passed due largely to pressure from international donors like the United States and the United Kingdom, who threatened to pull aid if this legislation were implemented.  However, in February 2012, the bill was reintroduced.  The Ugandan government is again attempting to legalize punishment – the most severe form being the death penalty – for homosexuality among its citizens. This overt discrimination will make it almost impossible for homosexual HIV positive individuals to seek or receive health care.

This bill is both a public health issue and a human rights concern.  This legislation increases barriers to health care access by legalizing the prosecution of doctors and other providers if they are found treating homosexual patients or advocating for their rights. The stigma associated with homosexuality in Uganda already makes it difficult for individuals to access care in setting where they feel safe and where they can be assured that their health information will remain confidential.  In Uganda, heterosexual transmission of HIV is predominant, but homosexual transmission is an increasing cause of new HIV infections.  Restricting access to health care for this population could therefore have significant impact on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda and surrounding parts of Africa.

Without proper treatment or prevention for this significant segment of the population, the recent increases seen in Uganda’s HIV/AIDS incidence might continue, and prevalence rates will likely also rise.  To counter these issues and reports of escalating violence (including murder) against homosexual activists, policymakers should support alternative legislation protecting the rights of health care workers to care for all patients, regardless of sexual orientation.

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5 Responses to “Anti-Homosexual Legislation in Uganda and the Effects on HIV Patients Seeking Medical Care”

  1. sbfphc Says:

    It is ironic that once upon a time Uganda was the World’s leader in tackling the HIV epidemic – social and political issues can disrupt even the best programs.

  2. daniellewiedeman Says:

    It is unfortunate to see a country come so far in addressing public health concerns such as HIV/AIDS – to simply let it all fall to the wasteline imposing a law that is a complete violation of human rights. Given the past threats from both the US and the UK concerning funding – I can’t understand why an implementation of this law would be worth risking their funding resources. Basic health care needs is a necessity to everyone regardless of sexual orientation and an overall lack of these services affects more than just Uganda.

  3. erincmasterson Says:

    Thank you for posting this timely yet distressing topic. I recently returned from Uganda and can validate that these views on homosexuality are consistent within some members of the uganda population, even among young people. It is extremely unfortunate that Uganda is essentially going backwards in the progress of human rights. As mentioned in the video, many nations of the world are now making significant strides in human rights by abolishing the death penalty, while Uganda is flagrantly defying what should be one of the most basic of human rights (freedom from sexual discrimination), while inviting another major violation of human rights (access to healthcare). It is almost certain that if this law is passed, the resulting withdrawal of foreign aid donors, including USAID, will have disastrous and widespread effects on the health of the Ugandan population. Furthermore, I find it quite ironic that one of the major proponents of this law is a U.S.-based group of religious evangelicals, who many believe played a role in the death of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato in 2011. Ironic because as a result of this bill, many innocent children and young people will die of preventable diseases and malnutrition, that could have otherwise been averted by U.S. and other foreign aid.

  4. anitaxuqin Says:

    I found this is a strong piece of policy advocacy, and I particularly like the part that the authors frame the bill as both a public health issue and a human rights concern. It points out that the anti-homosexual legislature would not only violate the human rights for homosexual people, but also harm the overall population by increasing the risks of HIV transmission. The argument is very persuasive, because even if the interest of homosexual people does not fall into the politicians’ consideration, policy-makers should take into consideration of public interest, including public health and their relationship with foreign donors, which will in turn affect the economic development of the country.

  5. bryanshaw848 Says:

    This is an extremely difficult issue. On the one hand, I fully agree with the need for human rights protections for the LGBT community. On the other, calls for cutting off funding from international donors reeks of cultural imperialism and the “strings attached” condition of foreign aid. Only a couple of years ago, the U.S. was cutting off aid for any policies or programs that talked about safe sex as opposed to abstinence based on our supposedly superior moral sense…it would not be surprising that Ugandan policymakers see our positions as inconsistent.

    Anyway, that little tidbit aside, I like that you seem to keep your calls for change local and within the Ugandan activist and policymaker community. Furthermore, you use some compelling examples of public health consequences if this repressive legislation were passed. This seems to be a good approach that avoids the cultural imperialism and paternalism bit (a la Joseph Kony 2012) that such issues could potentially invoke.

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