Activists representing gays and sex workers in Uganda have started consultations on the draft National Condom Strategy for the country.
The activists particularly want to engage with government and civil society organizations to contribute to developing a sound and all inclusive policy that would scale down sexually transmitted infection and HIV/Aids among minority groups in Uganda.
The activists are forming a working group to harmonise policy recommendations to the government with members drawn from both the sex work and homosexual communities.
The working group is coordinated by Uhspa Uganda, drawing a wide range of activists from sex workers, homosexuals, HIV/Aids and human rights main stream organizations and academia.
At a policy maker’s meeting held at Fairway Hotel, Kampala, Esther Gibone, an activists with the Rights to Health for Gays group, Uhspa, said the policy document was a well thought out idea from the government.
Gibone said, “We fully welcome the policy. We also encourage stakeholders to make lubricants and dental dams part of the condom policy.”
She said the National Condom policy would greatly reduce the acute shortage of condoms in the country. Uganda imports about 60 million condoms per year. Of a 33 million strong population, 50 per cent are below 20 years and sexually active. However, there are challenges in distribution of the condoms from the government national medicines and supplies stockist, the National Medical Stores.
Often health centres in upcountry areas complain that condom dispatches arrive late and that sometimes the condoms are expired, threatening the lives of the users.
A packet of three condoms costs about Ush500 (US$0.20) in Uganda. But as 40 per cent of Ugandans live on Ush 2500 per day (about US$1) this makes condoms expensive for many.
Sex workers activists from Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA), Lady Mermaid Bureau and Crested Crane Lighters have always pleaded with government to provide condoms for sex workers to contain HIV infections.
Although a limited number of condoms are given out free, the supplies are not sustainable given that sex work is illegal in Uganda. Some sex workers have reportedly used polythene bags as condoms and charge a premium price for unprotected sex when condoms are scarce.
Some donor organizations including UNFPA and the Red Cross donate condoms to Uganda, but are currently not guided by specific policies.
Zainab Akol, the Sexually Transmitted Infections and Aids Control Programme Manager in Uganda’s Ministry of Health said homosexuals and sex workers had made substantial observations on the bill.
She said, “We encourage you to engage with us (policy makers) on this policy.”
Condom use in Uganda is predominantly promoted for two purposes: the first in prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI), including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); and the second as a family planning method for prevention of unintended pregnancies.
from Behind the Mask