Ex-Ugandan lawmaker speaks of ‘regret’ at excluding gays from AIDS control legislation

A former Ugandan legislator who tabled the controversial HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010 in Parliament which excluded homosexual rights to access HIV prevention and treatment has said she now “regrets the oversight.” Beatrice Rwakimari told a meeting of homosexual and sex worker activists in Kampala on Friday that if the bill she presented in parliament is passed in its current form, it will not be helpful to scaling down HIV infection among Ugandan minority groups.

Rwakimari, now the Vice Chairperson of the Aids Information Centre (AIC) in Kampala said “But I hope they [parliamentarians will now] include homosexual rights to treatment.”

Rwakimari was a legislator during Uganda’s eighth Parliament but lost her seat at the general election early this year.

The HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010 has kept Ugandan human rights activists busy most of this year as it seeks to criminalise HIV spread and to impose mandatory disclosure.

The activists contend that mandatory disclosure will fuel domestic violence against women and that the bill seeks to control the 20 per cent of Ugandans who have tested and know their sero status.

Rwakimari said although there were still punitive laws on Uganda’s statute books regarding homosexuals, there were signals the situation would change for the better. Rwakimari was officiating at the review of a legal audit of Uganda’s policies and laws commissioned by the AIC.

The study examines various public health policies and laws and how they promote or curtail minority access to health. It will form a basis for intervention and designing specific programmes and interventions by AIC on minorities in Uganda. AIC has a presence in districts across the country offering HIV support, care, treatment and prevention work.

Rwakimari’s change of heart was received by some activists as a welcome shift in a rigid homophobic attitude to homosexuals in various health policy making circles.

Gay right to health advocacy group, Uhspa Uganda on April 8, 2011 presented a petition to Ugandan parliament by LGBTIs contesting the non inclusion of homosexuals in interventions  proposed in the HIV/Aids Control Bill.

Many LGBTI activists have also been actively engaging with Rwakimari and legislators to include homosexual rights to health in HIV programmes in Uganda.

Although minority groups have been mentioned in Uganda’s public health policy under MARPS (the Most at Risk Population groups), homosexuals are discriminated against even under MARPS arrangements.

“Keeping homosexuals in the otherness all the time in policy planning is detrimental,” Beyoncé Tushabe an activist with Uhspa Uganda said at the meeting.

Kabumba Busingye, the lead consultant on the survey and head of Development Law Associates said the study shall also advise stakeholders on the policy and legal remedies in Uganda and how they pertain to homosexuals and minorities rights in Uganda.

Uganda has only one policy that recognizes homosexuals as a group for targeting in sexual health, the National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. However, there are no activities or budget lines from the government to undertake activities towards homosexuals well being on sexually transmitted infections and HIV/Aids interventions.

All HIV/Aids prevention messages in Uganda are heterosexual based, making many gays believe its only heterosexual sex that can lead to contracting the HIV virus.

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