Ugandan gay activists applaud passing of East African HIV Bill

Ugandan gay activists have welcomed the passing of the East African Community HIV and Aids Prevention and Management Bill 2010 by East Africa’s regional parliament, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).

Sex work activists have also lauded the bill which was recently passed by EALA during a sitting in Nairobi.

Both sets of activists said that although the bill only mentions “vulnerable groups” as one of the targets of the new bill in its appendix, it still offers new hope for access to HIV/Aids treatment and the general right to health for minority groups in the region.

The bill is yet to be approved by the regional presidents representing Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, the five members of the East African Community.

Maclean Kyomya, the head of the sex workers group, Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy, said, “It was a step in the right direction.”

Another activist, Flavia Kyomukama from the gay right to health lobby group, Uhspa Uganda said the bill was welcome because it does not contain criminalisation clauses unlike the Ugandan HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010 currently going through Ugandan Parliament.

Kyomukama said, “We shall support this effort to the end,”

The EALA bill will synchronize a regional approach to HIV/Aids programming. Julius Sabuni of the Eastern African Network of Aids Service Organizations said he was happy that although the bill was initially proposed by regional civil society organisations, it had been picked up by the executive in the regional governments.

The non-criminalization of HIV/Aids and fostering provision of information to all people in the region, without any discrimination has won the hearts of many HIV/Aids activists and lobby groups in Uganda.

Ugandan HIV/Aids activists spent most of last year lobbying Parliament to drop criminalization of HIV in the country’s HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010. Gay activists and pressure groups also petitioned Ugandan parliament, demanding streamlining of gays rights to health in the Ugandan HIV/Aids Control Bill 2010.

Gay activists, HIV/Aids and human rights groups are looking at the East African HIV Bill critically as it will have over bearing influence on the Ugandan HIV Bill when it comes to Parliament for debate.

Dorah Kyomukama, the Executive Director of Uganda Network on Law, on Law and Ethics says the bill is good for Uganda, especially removing criminalization in national legal frameworks.

She added that the bill has a likelihood that homosexuals will be included in information sharing, and access to vital supplies for HIV prevention, care, support and treatment.

It had been widely hoped by Ugandan activists that the East African Bill would help Uganda mainstream LGBTI and sex workers rights in its current HIV/Aids Control and Prevention Bill which is expected to soon be before the national parliament.

The gay activists’ interests in the bills are being championed by Uhspa Uganda (the Uganda Health and Science Press Association) together with the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a grouping of 33 gay friendly activists and organisations.

But both Maclean and Kyomukama said the text of the passed bill had been improved from the original one that was derogatory to minority groups.

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