|Uhspa activist, Nakiganda ( facing camera) addresses the government committee at Ministry of Health Headquarters, April 27, 2011|
In a surprising, unprecedented action, the Uganda government has appointed LGBTI lobby group, Uhspa Uganda, to a committee to mainstream homosexual’s rights in Uganda’s Public Health Policies.
The Uganda Health and Science Press Association is a registered LGBTI network of groups and individuals that works to promote health rights of vulnerable and minority groups in Uganda.
It brings together journalists, lawyers,social scientists, minority groups, students and the academia to put an end to homophobia and transphobia and streamline minority concerns in all Uganda's public health policies and laws.
The Health, Human Rights and Gender Committee is overseen by the Ministry of Health in Kampala. It brings together high profile activists, policy makers and donors to develop a Human Rights-based approach to health programming in Uganda.
A letter signed by Uganda’s Director General for Health Services, Mr Nathan Kenya-Mugisha, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, described Uhspa Uganda as a “key stakeholder” in mainstreaming minorities rights in health programming in Uganda.
Ms Hasifa Nakiganda, the Uhspa Uganda Lobby and Advocacy officer welcomed the appointment and said it was the right thing for the government to do.
“By virtue of Uganda signing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), it (Uganda) also agreed to state parties obligations to avail health access to all Ugandans without discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Ms Nakiganda said.She said the government had made the right decision, because for some years, Uganda had been stuck at a 6.4 percent national HIV prevalence because homosexuals were deliberately kept off the health access radar, thus fuelling a wave of new HIV infections.
“Keeping homosexuals as a reservoir for HIV infection is not only malicious, but criminal on part of the state. So this engagement will help in addressing challenges to HIV and health information, care, treatment and support for LGBTI persons.” Ms Nakiganda said.She said the relatively high HIV prevalence rates in the LGBTI community was not necessarily because they engage in high risk sex behaviour, but rather, because the Uganda government had denied them information on HIV prevention through punitive laws on the penal code.
There is only one national policy that recognizes sexual orientation and homosexuals as a target group for HIV and health interventions in Uganda, this is the National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. However, high levels of homophobia among health planners have hampered the roll out of this policy across public health infrastructure for LGBTI persons to have access to health without discrimination.
There are attempts by the Ministry of Health to support health delivery to LGBTI persons through the Most At Risk Populations network clinic at the national referral Hospital in Kampala. However, the clinic is poorly funded, and since the introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 in Ugandan Parliament, clients visiting the clinic have dropped for fear of being arrested.
According to Dr Thomas Muyunga, an activist and a medical doctor, some of the clinic’s clients think the clauses of the Bahati Bill have already become law even though the bill expired with the Eighth Parliament of Uganda earlier this year.
Human Rights group, AGHA Uganda recently conducted a study on access to health for Ugandan homosexuals and found that the poor planning by government on homosexual health was a challenge in addressing HIV/Aids.
The report also noted that health service providers were too homophobic, and unaware of the needs homosexuals in a health setup; calling for a review of the curricular in medical schools to address sexual orientation and the application of the do- no- harm guidelines.
Mr Ally Walimbwa, the Ministry’s Human Rights Focal Officer said all constituencies in Uganda should be reached out in health programming. The committee sitting at Ministry of Health headquarters, brings together a cross section of government institutions and activists.
At a meeting to develop a training manual on mainstreaming human rights on July 21 at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala, Mr Kabumba Busingye, a senior lecturer on law and adviser to Uhspa Uganda said the move by government was welcome. He said the existing legislation criminalised the sex act, but not the people who identify themselves as gay, and hence keeping them from access to health was wrong.
This article has been edited to expand the description of Uhspa.