Gay rights activists in Uganda have opened up Uganda’s first ever LGBTI clinic which will specifically focus on homosexuals HIV/Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections and general welfare.
The clinic will run under the auspices of gay lobby group, Ice Breakers Uganda. It was opened on Sunday in Kampala among jubilations and renewed hope among the Ugandan gay community for confidentiality in access to treatment.
Dennis Wamala, an official with Ice Breakers said the LGBTI clinic will be run by professional health workers who offer care, support and treatment. He told Behind the Mask that the clinic would offer “better avenues in health seeking behaviours among the LGBTI community.” He said, “LGBTI people often fear to go to hospitals due to stigma. But here (at the clinic) they can easily open up.” Wamala said he was particularly concerned that some of the mannerisms and expressions of gay and transgender people were a source of ridicule in mainstream health centres.
Brian Nkooyoyo, the Ice Breakers Director said the clinic was now open and offered services to all LGBTI for free. It currently has only one bed admission facility.
The opening of a clinic specifically focusing on LGBTI community is a desperate effort to address welfare among Ugandan homosexuals faced with increased hostilities.
Previously there have been suggestions that the number of homosexuals seeking health services in mainstream health facilities has dropped since the infamous Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 was tabled in Uganda’s Parliament. The bill requires health workers to report their clients to the police, by virtue of information such medics get from gay clients. Although the bill is still going through parliament, many Ugandans and health practitioners believe it is already law.
Health workers disassociate from helping homosexuals on fears based in the proposed Anti Homosexuality bill that when found out their practicing certificates be terminated.
Gay activist, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo led the clinic opening with a service. He recited the prayer of St. Francis, adding that even in times of agony, hopelessness and despair, homosexuals and heterosexuals were equal before God. The Bishop said the clinic is a new milestone in LGBTI health in Uganda.
Although homosexuals have been identified under Most at Risk Population groups (MARPS) in public health policy in Uganda, there are no deliberate interventions to homosexual’s health in Uganda. All government led initiatives on health exclude homosexuals from access to care, treatment and support on HIV/Aids and other infections. This has seen increased infections among Ugandan LGBTI community.
Lesbian rights advocacy group Freedom and Roam Uganda (Farug) recently shared their preliminary findings on lesbian women health in Kampala. The survey, whose final findings are due for publishing found that many health workers use their personal values – religious, culture or upbringing when dealing with homosexual treatment in health centres, contrary to the code of ethics that emphasizes non discrimination. The survey also indicates that health workers are afraid of treating homosexuals in the wake of the infamous Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 for fear of being arrested. Although the bill has not yet been passed, many Ugandans believe it always law given the massive media attention to it.
Junic Wandya, the Farug project coordinator said, “This is fuelling self medication especially among transgender people who are stigmatized because of their physical appearance.” Wandya however said Uganda’s health system needed to accommodate treating lesbians and MSM with dignity; and that gay people need to divulge ailment history to the health workers without fear of reprisal ridicules and arrests.
The Farug project is a first in Uganda to specifically focus on lesbian women health in details. It also encompasses the entire gay community health, health seeking behaviour and wellbeing with particular emphasis on Women who have Sex with Women (WSW).
Activist Jay Abang of Farug said there is very little information on lesbian health and prevention of infections. She said most literature tends to concentrate on MSM health, without addressing the needs of lesbians.
Abang wondered, “For example, how many of us use condoms on our dildos?” while noting that apart from overcoming government’s deliberate move to deny lesbians information on how they can protect themselves from HIV and other infections, Farug’s project was also intended to reach out to high levels of policy and decision making. Abang said personal hygiene and other basic needs including dental dams and finger coats should be widely availed and consistently and correctly used to deter infections.