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Uganda is Africa’s HIV conference host despite LGBT crackdown

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Uganda is Africa’s HIV conference host despite LGBT crackdown

Uganda will be hosting the largest conference related to HIV/AIDS in Africa in 2021 despite its ongoing crackdown of its LGBT community.

Because of this, local and international rights activists have called on Uganda to repeal its law criminalizing same-sex relations.

This law punishes sex acts they deemed “against the order of nature” with up to life in prison.

Uganda as host of for HIV conference in Africa

The choice of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) of Uganda as its next venue has drawn mixed reactions.

Some see it as rewarding the Ugandan administration even after it has repeatedly threatened the LGBT community. Others see it as a way to push Uganda to decriminalize not only LGBT groups but also other marginalized communities affected by HIV.

Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS’ new executive director, said Uganda should repeal its anti-LGBT law so that they can attend the conference.

Asia Russell, executive director of HIV activist group Health GAP, said Uganda’s consideration for ICASA is a “testament to the power of the activism of people living with HIV and criminalized populations.”

Russell said that Ugandan activists were right to “point out that government must commit to rolling back criminalization of HIV, homosexuality, sex work, and drug use in order to bring the HIV response into line with evidence and human rights.”

Uganda: An African country with anti-LGBT policies

During the ICASA event this month in Rwanda, Cindy Kelemi, executive director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law, and HIV/AIDS, said there is missing political leadership in the HIV response in Africa.

“In our beloved Africa, there are many countries with anti-LGBTI policies and laws. We need political leadership to remove political and structural barriers,” she said.

Sub-Saharan Africa still has a high rate of HIV transmission among transgender people and men who have sex with men.

Unfortunately, many of the African countries still criminalize LGBT communities and these have an effect on their ability to access HIV prevention and treatment services.

In Uganda, UNAIDS reported that HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is far higher than in the general adult population.

However, fewer of them are getting antiretroviral therapy, and this is the trend in other countries where same-sex activity is criminalized.

Uganda’s treatment of its LGBT community

A wave of violence has been targeting the LGBT community in Uganda since October, when Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo threatened the revoked death penalty law for people convicted of gay sex.

Afterwards, police arrested 16 activists from LGBT rights group Let’s Walk Uganda and gave them forced anal examinations, a widely debunked practice that looks for evidence of gay sex.

Last November, police raided Ram Bar in Kampala in the capital, a location that is friendly to members of the LGBT community. They arrested 127 people and charged 67 with causing a nuisance.

“Everyone knew that people had been arrested because of who they are, because they identify as LGBT persons,’ said Patricia Kimera, programs director at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

Because of the arrests and harassment, these have had an effect on Uganda’s HIV response, warned Richard Lusimbo, research and documentation manager at the NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda.

Lusimbo said that “people are scared of coming to access the services. And it gives an opportunity for discrimination.”

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