“Missionaries of Hate,” a documentary on the role of US evangelicals in the draconian anti-gay legislation still pending in Uganda, is airling tonight at 10 pm on Current TV.
Here is a link to the trailer. Tune in to the full show.
This post is by the Global Center’s Rabita Aziz
Musa Bugundu, the UNAIDS country coordinator for Uganda, spoke with global HIV/AIDS advocates yesterday at an event sponsored by the Global Health Council about the current HIV situation in Uganda, making several suggestions about the best ways to move forward.
Bugundu spoke at length about successes in the fight against HIV thanks to political leadership and commitment and funding from PEPFAR and other sources. However, he stressed that much more needs to be done, as there are hundreds of thousands of HIV infected individuals who have no access to treatment. Bugundu warned that with the recent flat–lining of funding and the proposal of harmful legislation in Uganda like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the progresses made against the epidemic may be reversed.
At the peak of the AID crisis in Uganda in 1992, HIV prevalence was 18 percent among adults. This number has now stabilized to 6.4 percent. At present, over 350,000 persons are in need of care, with just over half of the infected population receiving treatment. Twenty two percent of HIV infected pregnant women are transmitting the disease to their newborns, and the prevalence rate among children is .7 percent.
Bugundu stressed that reducing mother-to-child transmission rates is a critical component of the HIV response because vertical transmission can easily be prevented given that the right resources are present. In addition to applying resources to such concrete endeavors, Bugundu stressed that attitudes toward women and children must be changed. There should be a renewed focus on treating women and young girls more equitably, he said, and the well-being and development of young girls should be a priority. He said it is deplorable that people do not see any negative impacts of the practice of child marriage and consequently, child pregnancy. He said the culture must be changed so women and girls are not like treated like second-class citizens, which places them at a higher risk for contracting HIV.
Bugundu went on to say that “a combination of culture and religion makes things difficult.” He said that the messages sent to young people to abstain from sex and to be faithful are ineffectual, and that people need to face reality of the numbers: 43 percent of new infections occur in monogamous, heterosexual couples. This is one reason why the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, proposed by MP David Bahati last October, is so appalling, he said. In 2008, less than 1 percent of new infections occurred in same-sex couples.
In 2007, Parliament had criminalized homosexuality. The new bill goes further and aims to prosecute not only HIV infected individuals who transmitted the disease, but also to punish individuals who fail to report another person’s homosexual orientation to authorities. This would mean that doctors, religious leaders, teachers, and others must turn in a gay or lesbian person, or face three years in jail.
Bugundu said if adopted this provision would have a very negative impact on the HIV situation in Uganda, as those infected with HIV would stop seeking help for fear of being imprisoned, which in turn would result in more people becoming infected. Bugundu credited pressure from the international community as playing a key role now in watering down the scope of the bill.
But he said the entire bill must be removed as a way to deal with the HIV situation. In addition, there must be renewed commitment from political leaders, who must take more ownership of the HIV response, he said.
Along with more financial support, African leaders should be held more accountable by donors for their actions. In addition, he said, there should be more integration of services as the fragmentation of services has proven to be detrimental.
He gave several suggestions on the best ways ahead, including the scale up of male circumcision, the scale up of ARV treatment, and more efforts put towards reducing stigma and discrimination against those who are infected.
On Thursday, a powerful Senate panel is expected to ramp up pressure on Uganda’s leaders to kill an anti-gay bill that would criminalize homosexuality and is now pending in that country’s Parliament.
At issue is Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would impose life imprisonment or a death sentence for same-gender consensual sex and threatens prison time for individuals who do not report suspected homosexuals to the police. The proposed law has sparked international condemnation, and this week that outrage will be on display at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The panel is expected to take up a Senate Resolution on Thursday on urging members of Uganda’s Parliament to reject the bill. A broad coalition of advocacy groups has urged senators to support the measure.
In a letter urging a “yes” vote on the resolution, the groups note that this legislation (and similar proposals in other countries) is a gross violation of human rights and could jeopardize the international response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“The effort to halt and reverse the spread of HIV & AIDS globally is compromised by punitive legal environments that further marginalize communities at high risk for HIV,” the coalition letter says. “Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in low- and middle-income countries are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. Criminal laws that expressly target this population drive the community underground, fueling risk-taking behavior in a climate of fear and silence, and making it difficult to reach MSM with the information and services they need. Investments in PEPFAR, totaling over $32.3 billion since FY 2004, will not achieve their full potential in a political climate that is hostile to key affected populations.”
Click here to read the full sign-on letter: SRes409 (2)
Dr. Paul Semugoma, a Ugandan physician, just published this poignant perspective on the anti-gay movement in his native country, the US role in fostering that hostile climate, and the repercussions on efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and reach out to the vulnerable at-risk populations if the tide is not reversed.
“Uganda is undergoing a crisis of homophobia,” he writes. “In the 1990s, the country had an effective HIV/AIDS prevention program. Broad-based partnerships and targeted public education campaigns meant that the number of people living with HIV actually declined dramatically. That’s over. In this decade, ideology and prejudice shouldered aside science to drive Uganda’s anti-AIDS campaign.
“The US bears much of the blame. The US President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) surrendered to homophobia and reinforced the invisibility of gay men. It preached “abstinence until marriage;” since gays can’t marry, they were excluded from HIV outreach. The US Agency for International Development, responding to Congressional pressure, barred use of the term “men who have sex with men.” In Uganda, these programs funded faith-based organizations — many with no experience working on HIV prevention or treatment, many openly spreading hatred of lesbians and gay men.”
This has now culminated in a frightening debate over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill pending in the Ugandan Parliament and inspired, at least in part, by some conservative US religious leaders. That legislation would impose life imprisonment, or even death, for same-gender consensual sex acts and threatens imprisonment of individuals who do not report suspected homosexual acts to the police.
“The Obama administration has a chance to turn things around — but it must act fast,” Semugoma writes. “It must press Uganda’s government to bring science and human rights back into HIV prevention. Otherwise, my patient, and thousands like him, will die from the deadliest diseases: silence and fear.”
It’s worth reading the whole commentary:
Update: Today’s hearing in Congress on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill will be live-streamed ont the Web at http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/.
The hearing begins soon–at 2pm today in Rayburn Room 2172–and will probe the the foreign policy, public health, and human rights implications of Uganda’s draconian anti-gay bill. Lawmakers will hear testimony on these issues from the Global Center’s Director, Christine Lubinski, along with a State Department official, a Ugandan human rights expert, and others.
If you can’t tune in directly, check back here after the hearing for our coverage!
Nearly 1,500 physicians, scientists, and other global health leaders from the U.S. and around the world today called on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to stop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before his country’s Parliament.
In a petition that drew signatures from clinicians, professors, researchers and students at leading US and international institutions, these experts said the Ugandan legislation would violate human rights and undermine public health, posing a particular threat to Uganda’s successful HIV/AIDS programs.
The bill would impose life imprisonment, or even death, for same-gender consensual sex acts and threatens imprisonment of individuals who do not report suspected homosexual acts to the police. The proposed law has sparked international condemnation, and there is growing pressure from world leaders on President Museveni to kill the bill.
HIV experts are very concerned the legislation would deter an already vulnerable at-risk population from seeking HIV services out of fear that it could land them on death row, as well as intimidating the health care workers who serve these populations.
“This legislation will violate Ugandans’ human rights and will impede successful efforts in HIV prevention by promoting misinformation suggesting that HIV transmission in Uganda is primarily due to male homosexual behavior. It will also create a chilling effect on patients’ willingness to seek HIV testing and prevention services and jeopardizes the fragile gains Uganda has made in combating the AIDS epidemic,” Kenneth Mayer, MD, co-chair of the Center for Global Health Policy’s Scientific Advisory Committee and professor at Brown University, where he directs the AIDS program, said in this news release highlighting the petition.
“This proposal would needlessly undermine public health in Uganda by further stigmatizing people with HIV or at risk of infection and by severely compromising the patient-health provider relationship,” said Michael Saag, MD, chairman of the HIV Medicine Association’s board and a chief of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (HIVMA and the Global Center helped spearhead the petition effort.)
Here’s the full letter to Uganda’s president: Petition_Opposing_Harmful_Uganda_Legislation
The missive to President Museveni comes as Congress prepares to delve into this growing international controversy. On Thursday, Jan. 21, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing on Uganda’s anti-gay bill, probing the foreign policy, public health, and human rights implications of the legislation. The hearing will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m., in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Lawmakers will hear testimony on these issues from the Global Center’s Director, Christine Lubinski, along with a State Department official, a Ugandan human rights expert, and others.
It also comes amid reports that David Bahati, the sponsor of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, plans to come to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Prayer Breakfast on February 4. Click here to read more about his planned trip.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today went further than other US government officials have so far in threatening specific repercussions if Uganda does not abandon its draconian anti-gay legislation.
At issue is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill set for consideration by the Ugandan Parliament that would impose life imprisonment or a death sentence for same-gender consensual sex and threatens prison time for individuals who do not report suspected homosexuals to the police. The proposed law has sparked international condemnation, and there is growing pressure from world leaders on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to stop the bill.
HIV experts are particularly concerned that the legislation would deal a major blow to Uganda’s successful AIDS treatment efforts, deterring an already vulnerable at-risk population from seeking HIV testing and treatment services out of fear of severe punishment and intimidating the health care workers who serve these populations.
So far, the expressions of dismay and threats of diplomatic fall-out from Western leaders have not seemed to seriously sidetrack the bill. But Wyden today highlighted a new US pressure point in the increasingly urgent campaign to nix the legislation.
In this news release, Wyden says said the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill would be a violation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives preferential duty-free status to imports from Uganda and some other African nations. One of the conditions of the law is that beneficiaries do not engage in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” Wyden notes in the letter he sent today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the matter.
“There are few words that could adequately express the barbarity of the Ugandan proposal,” Wyden writes in his letter. “I strongly urge you to communicate immediately to the Ugandan government, and President Yoweri Museveni directly, that Uganda’s beneficiary status under AGOA will be revoked should the proposed legislation be enacted. President Museveni was an early and active proponent of AGOA and knows first-hand the significance of the legislation and the seriousness that Congress employed in shaping it. The significance of Uganda losing its AGOA beneficiary status will not be lost on President Museveni and other leaders in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Wyden also asks Clinton and Kirk to find out whether a similar trade benefit Uganda enjoys with the European Union could be revoked if the law is enacted.
Here’s the full text of the letter: Wyden Letter to USTR Re Uganda and AGOA Jan 2010
HIV physicians and scientists are increasingly alarmed and engaged around this issue, as evidenced by this letter from the South African HIV Clinicians Society. Letter from SA HIV Clinicians Society to Uganda Parliament 08 01 10
Stay tuned for developments from their US-based counterparts.