18 months after attacking activists for opening a HIV clinic for LGBTIs in Kampala, Uganda’s Health Ministry has announced plans for similar clinics of their own – but the Ministry for Ethics and Integrity is strongly against them, showing a split in the government.
Acting manager of the Health Ministry’s AIDS Control Program, Alex Ario, told the IRIN news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that they are rolling out four clinics for the most at-risk populations (MARPs) in four locations in Kampala and several others in major HIV/AIDS hot spots in rural centers.
The clinics will serve 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
“The clinics will not only be MSM clinics but MARPs clinics, though the focus will be on those MARPs that are most stigmatized, discriminated against and most likely to miss out on intervention services,’ Ario told IRIN.
‘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. For us, we don’t discriminate in our services. The other aspects of the law will come later.’
It is believed that around 13.7% of Ugandan men who have sex with men are infected with the virus while around one-in-three Ugandan female sex workers are infected but the government has not previously included these groups in its national strategy to fight HIV because homosexuality and prostitution are illegal.
However the plans for the clinics provoked outrage from the head of Uganda’s Ministry for Ethics and Integrity.
‘We shall not tolerate these clinics. To open these clinics is a recipe for recognizing these behaviours, which are totally unacceptable. We are not obliged to encourage these acts, Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo told IRIN.
The US Government welcomed the initiative from the Health Ministry
‘We strongly encourage them to ensure that these populations are not stigmatized and are respected under the Ugandan constitution, which guarantees equal rights for all minorities,’ US Mission Uganda spokesman Daniel Travis told IRIN.
However Pepe Julian Onziema of LGBTI rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) told IRIN he was concerned about men who have sex with men being asked to go to clinics that could identify them to the public as such.
‘It’s good to know that the [Ministry of Health] is making this move,’ Onziema said.
‘However, I’m afraid that opening specific clinics to cater for [commercial sex workers] and MSM people will only contribute to further stigma and discrimination.’
‘Everyone will know where to find a homosexual, making it easy for homosexual haters to pounce … Clinics should be generally inclusive.’