We, the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation and partners, strongly condemn the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed in the Ugandan Parliament on 21 March 2023. This a gross infringement of human rights and dignity and undermines sound public health policy. As an organisation in the name of the late Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, we are particularly concerned regarding the infringement of the right to health and access to other essential services for all persons regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Bill criminalises the existence of LGBTQIA+ people in Uganda as well as same-sex acts and marriage. We read with horror that even a minor convicted of the act of homosexuality can be sentenced for up to three years imprisonment and what the Bill terms “Aggravated Homosexuality” can be punished with the death penalty. The Bill bans the provision of services and accommodation for LGBTQIA+ Ugandans, and any legal entity that “promotes homosexuality”. It further requires all Ugandans to report any person suspected of being LGBTQIA+ to the authorities. We urge the Presidency and Ugandan Government to reconsider the enactment of this Bill. It is not too late to veto this appalling legislation.
The Bill entrenches discrimination and inequality for these already vulnerable populations. It is a massive step backwards for a population who is already burdened with a higher risk for health conditions such as HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and mental health conditions. This is a public health risk to the entire population of Uganda and should be reconsidered. Providing access to health care for LGBTQIA+ people allow diseases to be detected and treated earlier, improving health outcomes for the entire population. This can result in reduced health care costs and increased productivity, leading to economic growth. Health systems should prioritise providing the appropriate and affirming care that LGBTQIA+ people desperately need, not criminalising their right to access basic health care.
The HIV prevalence of gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) is 3 times higher than that of the general population of adult men in Kampala, Uganda.1 MSM who suffered homophobic abuse were five times as likely to be HIV-infected as those who escaped such abuse.1 This shows that MSM in Kampala are at substantially higher risk for HIV, and that discrimination and stigma contribute to this epidemic. Recent estimates indicate that there is a total of 24,000 MSM in Uganda and 25% of new HIV infections stem from key populations and their partners.2 The established HIV programme in Uganda would become illegal under the Bill, preventing the saving of many future lives. The Bill would exclude LGBTQIA+ people from accessing treatment and pre-exposure prophylaxis, participating in clinical trials of new HIV drugs, and accessing the mental health care and social support these populations desperately need to survive in such discriminatory environments.
Furthermore, the Bill would also endanger the lives of health care providers, many of which have dedicated their entire lives to the provision of HIV care and public health more broadly. Health care providers understand the importance of providing services for all including the most vulnerable to realise epidemic control. If any single population is excluded from services, it would be impossible to eliminate HIV in Uganda.
We condemn the Bill in its entirety. It institutionalises and perpetuates discrimination and hatred towards LGBTQIA+ people. We call on the Ugandan Government and Presidency to veto the passing of this Bill. We call on the broader public, particularly public health institutions, to make their voices heard to speak out against this injustice. For the sake of humanity, the right to health for all, and ending the HIV epidemic, we urge the enactment of this Bill to stopped at all costs.
1. Hladik W, Barker J, Ssenkusu JM, Opio A, Tappero JW, Hakim A, Serwadda D; Crane Survey Group. HIV infection among men who have sex with men in Kampala, Uganda–a respondent driven sampling survey. PLoS One. 2012;7(5): e38143. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038143. Epub 2012 May 31. PMID: 22693590; PMCID: PMC3364961.
2. Uganda AIDS Commission. 2022. Uganda: HIV&AIDS Legal Environment Assessment for Key Populations. Available: https://sph.mak.ac.ug/sites/default/files/2022-09/final_hiv_aids_lea_for_kps_in_uganda_final_report_august_2022-print_compressed.pdf
This statement is endorsed and supported by the following partners:
Desmond Tutu Health Foundation
Access Chapter 2
Be True 2 Me
Cape Town Pride
The Foundation for Human Rights
The Fruit Basket
Global Interfaith Network
Inclusive and Affirming Ministries
KZN LGBT Recreation Collective
One in Nine Campaign
Safe Place International
Same Love Toti