Five days after police officers called on the United States Military HIV Research Program’s project office in Uganda’s capital to enforce the country’s new Anti-Homosexuality Law, a note on the project site, as well as a statement on the U.S. Department of State web site, announcing the “temporary suspension” of the project’s activities to “ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program,” remain the latest official word on the impact of the law on work that began in Uganda with research in 1998, extended to care and treatment of HIV patients in 2005, and supports seven antiretroviral treatment sites now across the nation.
While the note on the web site for the Makerere University Walter Reed Project adds that the project is working with its patients to “ensure there is no interruption in their care,” that care, in a nation with one of the most unyielding HIV epidemics in Africa, where more than a million people live with the virus that leads to AIDS, and where that number continues to exceed the numbers starting treatment, is but one aspect of what the project does to combat HIV there. According to the U.S. MHRP web site, the project also counts among its HIV-fighting efforts the support of two free male circumcision programs, two civil society organizations providing support for people living with HIV, and treatment clubs at clinics that provide nutrition education and income generating farms. It has trained health workers to offer routine HIV testing and counseling, and led to 100,000 people being tested for HIV. In addition, the project’s research in Uganda continues to include quests for an HIV vaccine, Ebola vaccine development, and work to combat pandemic influenza. While the impact of a law that includes among its definitions of homosexuality that a person: “uses any object or sexual contraption to penetrate or stimulate sexual organ of a person of the same sex” and includes among its “related offenses” the crime of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” as “a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality,” on the project remains uncertain in Uganda, the events there once again raise questions that remain unanswered on the potential for the law, and similarly inspired laws to impact other HIV responses.
The MHRP also provides HIV-related health services at 20 sites, including support for antiretroviral treatment for about 20,000 people, clinical care for more than 30,000 people living with HIV, and testing for 70,000 people in Nigeria, where the President signed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Law in January that prohibits support for, or gatherings by, gay people.