President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

As Uganda’s President Museveni considers signing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a group of public health experts have warned him that the law will have a “disastrous impact” on the fight against HIV.

In an open letter to Museveni, the doctors, researchers and academics said that higher HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men means that the proposed law, which criminalises the “promotion” as well as “aiding and abetting of homosexuality,” will sabotage the country’s efforts to fight HIV.

Uganda’s rate of new HIV infections has been on the rise since 2005, unlike virtually all other East and Southern African countries.

The scientists and doctors also responded to the president’s earlier comments that he was seeking out “evidence” from a team of scientists to asses if homosexuality is “normal.”

The letter tells Museveni: “Evidence from independent technical normative agencies and respected medical and socio-logical professional bodies around the world could not be more clear… Homosexuality is not a pathology, an abnormality, a mental disorder, or an illness — it is a variant of sexual behavior found in people around the world.”

The experts further state that people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are no more likely to be a threat to children than their heterosexual counterparts. This is in response to claims made by the Bill’s supporters that it will increase the protection of children.

The doctors who signed the letter, many of whom have extensive frontline experience in public health in Uganda and other African countries, also raised major ethical concerns about the proposed law, warning that it will leave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “in fear of arrest, violence and intimidation.”

“This harmful Bill contradicts public health, human rights, and our ethical obligations as medical doctors and as Ugandans,” said Dr. Stephen Watiti, Board Chairperson of the Community Health Alliance of Uganda (CHAU), and a signatory to the open letter.

“Uganda must ensure that everyone, whether heterosexual or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, has access to essential health services, including HIV prevention and treatment. If passed into law, this Bill would dramatically undermine the fight against HIV—lives are literally hanging in the balance,” he said.

Dennis Odwe, the Executive Director of Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA) Uganda commented that “Driving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities further underground is bad for their health, as well as the health of all of our people. Our politicians should focus on real priorities—we are calling on the President to veto this Bill.”

Uganda’s LGBT community is on tenterhooks as it awaits news on if the president will sign the law or send it back to parliament. If he refuses to sign the bill after it’s been sent to him twice by parliament, MPs theoretically have the power to force it into law without his approval with a two-thirds majority vote.

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