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Report: Uganda

Call for increased protection of homosexuals and prostitutes to stem spread of HIV/Aids

HIV/Aids  patients sit at a counseling facility in Gulu, Uganda
HIV/Aids patients sit at a counseling facility in Gulu, Uganda Reuters

World politicians meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, have agreed on the need to repeal laws discriminating against HIV/Aids which they say have contributed to an increase in the rate of new infections.

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MP's at the Inter Parliamentary Union assembly said laws that criminalize transmission of HIV, laws against sexual workers and those discriminating against sexual minorities need to be repealed.

Speaking during a panel discussion, Professor Sheila Tlou, UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said “there is a fear that a still highly stigmatized condition such as Aids can, and will, fall out of the agenda of national and global leaders”.

Tlou said early signs of a decreasing commitment to Aids in the form of reduced funding for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support were worrying especially since the epidemic is far from being over.

She said where the law deepens social fractures and inequality, denies access to services and criminalizes those who need these services it becomes an obstacle to the Aids response.

In Uganda, the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Bill 2010 was aimed at criminalising attempted transmission of HIV. The anti-homosexuality bill which remains on the shelves of parliament was identified as discriminatory and hampering the fight against HIV/Aids.

MP's called for zero discrimination against people living with Aids if the new campaign for zero new HIV infections and zero Aids related deaths is to be successful.

Tlou said UNAIDS was working with countries to introduce a programme to eliminate mother-to-child transmission to ensure that no child is born with the disease.

In 2009, the World Health Organization estimated there are 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV/Aids, with 2.7 million new HIV infections per year and two million annual deaths due to Aids.

Ugandan MP Doctor Elioda Tumwesigy said 7,000 people are infected every day worldwide - half the number are women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Zimbabwean MP, Thabitha Khumalo said HIV/Aids infections remain high among prostitutes, gays and lesbians because they are stigmatized and discriminated against.

“The moment we discriminated against them, we are saying that they go underground and re-infect,’’ Khumalo observed. She said it was wrong for politicians to discriminate against sexual workers and sexual minorities.

“When we want votes we don’t know them as commercial sexual workers, we don’t know them as any different from the way others are living, but the moment we’ve been voted into power we now call them names,” she said.

She told participants that some male MP used the services of sexual workers and many prostitutes in Zimbabwe have been abused by the very police force that should protect them.

She added in some cases they are abused by the policemen who arrest them and force them into having unprotected sex or confiscate their condoms which has led to rise in the new infections among these groups of people.

Khumalo told delegates that for the last three months she has been walking the streets of Harare every night to encourage sexual workers to sign a petition against a law criminalizing prostitution in Zimbabwe.

Delegates agreed to increase the fight against HIV/Aids in the world, and to end discrimination.

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