The launch of the LGBT clinic in Kampala last year

The launch of the LGBT clinic in Kampala last year

In a surprise move, Uganda’s health ministry has announced that it will open specialised HIV clinics for most at-risk populations (MARPs), including men who have sex with men (MSM).

In July last year, Uganda’s health ministry criticised the launch by activists of the country’s first clinic for LGBT people in Kampala, saying that it was unnecessary.

Human rights and health activists, however, insisted that LGBTI people are routinely discriminated against by health care providers.

Now, the ministry is following their lead and will, according to IRIN, set up similar facilities; rolling out four specialised clinics in Kampala and several others in other towns.

The clinics will target men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSW) with health services including HIV testing, counselling and treatment, and screening for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“The clinics will not only be MSM clinics but MARPs clinics, though the focus will be on those MARPs that are most stigmatised, discriminated against and most likely to miss out on intervention services,” Alex Ario, the acting programme manager of the Ministry of Health’s AIDS Control Programme (ACP), told Irin.

The move has not been well received by the notoriously homophobic Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo.

“We shall not tolerate these clinics. To open these clinics is a recipe for recognising these behaviours, which are totally unacceptable. We are not obliged to encourage these acts,” Lokodo told IRIN.

Lokodo has long waged a campaign against the LGBT community, supporting the still-pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill and threatening to ban human rights groups that support LGBT equality.

Ario, however, said that “We do not promote what they do, but what they do is our concern because of its public health implications. Therefore, from the public health point of view, we must reach them. As far as health services are concerned, we are not bothered [by] their sexual orientation and the laws.”

Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) commented that the news shows that the government is taking MSM seriously in the fight against HIV but warned that “opening specific clinics to cater for CSW [commercial sex workers] and MSM people will only contribute to further stigma and discrimination.”

He explained: “Everyone will know where to find a homosexual, making it easy for homosexual haters to pounce…” Onziema added that “Clinics should be generally inclusive.”

IRIN said that Lokodo’s comments appeared to confirm these concerns. “We shall arrest these people in these clinics and send them for treatment as culprits,” he said.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Uganda, with penalties including life imprisonment. The country’s pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill could add the death penalty as an additional punishment for repeat “offenders”.

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