Anti-Homosexuality Act is a Step Backward for Uganda

{Photo credit: Rui Pires}Photo credit: Rui Pires

Management Sciences for Health, a global health nonprofit organization working in over 60 countries, is deeply concerned with Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, recently signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

“MSH believes this new law will negatively affect the health of Ugandan citizens, and may restrict what groups like MSH can do to help Uganda fight HIV/AIDS and meet its Millennium Development Goals,” said Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, President and CEO of MSH.  

The law is a step backward for health equity for all of Uganda’s people. It prescribes life imprisonment for people committing “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeated same-sex intercourse between consenting adults, as well as same-sex acts involving a minor, a disabled person or where one partner is infected with HIV.  Prison terms of up to 14 years are prescribed for “first-time offenders.” The Act also applies fines and/or imprisonment for “promotion of homosexuality,” including behavior by individuals or organizations that “in any way abets” homosexuality.

MSH has worked in Uganda for over 15 years, measurably improving the health of Ugandan women, men and children, and helping to save the lives of people needing HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The new law’s restrictions on “abetting” homosexual relations will impair efforts by healthcare providers and development organizations like MSH to provide comprehensive prevention, counseling, testing, and clinical care and treatment services for vulnerable people living with HIV or facing risk of HIV infection.

 “Pushing a group of people underground, which we believe this law will do, may further increase the spread of HIV,” said Dr. Quick. “In light of the progress Uganda has already made towards reducing HIV/AIDS stigma, this policy represents a dangerous reversal that could impact the entire population. The HIV virus, after all, does not discriminate—it affects people from all communities in Uganda.”

MSH welcomes the recent statement to the BBC by Uganda’s Minister of Health, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, who said, “All people whether they are sexual orientation as gays or otherwise are at complete liberty to get full treatment and to give full disclosure to their doctors and nurses. He also said that “health workers will live up to their ethics of keeping confidentiality of their patients."

Laws regulating sexuality have often been adopted aiming to curtail risky behaviors and reduce HIV transmission. According to medical and public health literature, however, such laws have never been demonstrated to produce this effect. They are also inconsistent with broader public health goals and with a human rights-based approach to public health and delivery of health services (Burris et al 2007, Cameron 2009, Gruskin and Ferguson, 2009).

MSH’s mission is to give everyone the opportunity for a healthy life. We believe this law undermines the goal of strengthening health systems for greater health impact. In keeping with our core values, MSH believes health is a human right and remains committed to working with its partners to ensure inclusion for all, without discrimination, in public health programs in Uganda and around the world.