Gay activists present demands for health to Ugandan Parliament

Gay activists have presented Uganda’s parliament with a report on the performance of the health sector in Uganda and demanded a stop to anti-LGBTI discrimination with regards to access to health. The shadow report 2011, which was compiled by the gay activists in conjunction with mainstream human rights defenders, is a reflection of civil society perspectives on the performance of the health sector in Uganda, and making recommendations for areas of improvement.

The report was handed over to parliament’s Social Services Committee and was received by Jacob Opolot on behalf of the Committee. Legislators discussed the report and thanked the activists for the work in helping government promote health rights. A number of legislators wondered why LGBTIs were discriminated against when they went to access care and support at health centres across the country.

The activists, under the gay right to health pressure group, the Uganda Health and Science Press Association, or Uhspa-Uganda, explained that there will be a genuine public health challenge of a bridging population of new infections if homosexuals are intentionally left out in health policy and HIV/Aids programming.

The activists said in the report, “Given that homosexuality is still classified as crime under the penal code, many gay people are not able to obtain information on their health, especially on HIV/Aids and STIs. We call on the government to have a change of heart and honour calls to decriminalize homosexuality, provide VCT services to homosexuals by openly supporting gay support groups with medical personnel, supplies and Antiretroviral treatment or ART.”

Apophia Agiresasi, the director of AGHA-Uganda (Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/Aids), which coordinated the compilation of the report, said the report was well received by the legislators. Agiresasi said AGHA has a big stake in the health of Ugandan homosexuals because their health has implications on the general population, including sexual majorities.

Last year AGHA launched a report highlighting the challenges homosexuals go through in accessing health in Uganda. The shadow report is one of the initiatives to promoting of health in Uganda.

Ordinarily, the government releases an annual report every year at the high profile event held in Kampala to assess how the health sector is performing, challenges, successes and new strategies. This year, however, the right of homosexuals to health has become such a prominent human rights issue based on the argument that the Uganda government is deliberately keeping some Ugandans off the health access radar based on their sexual orientation.

Uganda agreed to and is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that calls for non discrimination in attaining the highest possible standards of physical and mental health for her population.

The activists said in the shadow report, “Sexual minorities, particularly Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex continue to face enormous challenges in access to care, support, treatment and information, especially on HIV prevention in Uganda.”

They added, “We ask the Uganda Revenue Authority not to confiscate supplies meant to help in information and protection of LGBTI from HIV infection, especially lubricants and dental dams on pretext that they are tools of homosexuality. There is a genuine public health challenge of a bridging population of new infections if homosexuals are intentionally left out in health policy and HIV/Aids programming.

“We also call on the Ugandan Parliament to mainstream the Rights to Health for Sexual Minorities in the HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010 when it is re-tabled as well as other public health policies and laws. Our strong desire is that the Uganda HIV management bill should be in line with the East African HIV/Aids management bill, and specifically do away with criminalization of HIV/Aids.”

Esther Gibone, a Programmes Officer with Uhspa Uganda said that while her organization managed to influence the shadow report process in last year’s report to include a chapter on ending discrimination and stigma against homosexuals in access to care, support and treatment in health services, Uganda still has a lot to do in making access to health available without discrimination.

Uhspa was recently appointed by the Uganda government to a committee under the Ministry of Health to streamline homosexual rights in Uganda’s five year development plan, the National Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan (HSSIPIII). The activists welcomed government’s interest in engaging with gay rights support groups.

There are also indications that Uganda’s Aids Commission will this year make available services to homosexuals when the government launches the National HIV Prevention Strategy for Uganda: 2011 to 2015. For the first time in Ugandan policy documents, Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) have been mentioned in the National HIV/Aids Strategic Plan launched last year by Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni.

Join the discussion