Anti-gay legislation, HIV criminalization and harm . . . We’re reading doctors’ warnings on how human rights abuses hurt public health

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From left to Right: Janet Fleischman, Dr. Daniel Nanshep Gobgab and Dr. Tonny Tumwesigye

Dr. Daniel Nanshep Gobgab of the Christian Health Association of Nigeria and Dr. Tonny Tumwesigye of the Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau came to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC Tuesday to talk about their work as physicians and faith-based health organization leaders.

The topic was family planning, but in the course of the discussion Karl Hofmann of PSI asked a broader public health question. How are their countries’ new laws, which further criminalize homosexuality and add new penalties for supporting and supplying services to gay people, impacting public health? Both said their organizations have made clear to staff and clients that no one would be turned away from care. Dr. Gobgab added, “As Christians we are following in the path of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . He never rejected anyone who came to him.” Both also indicated their concerns. Dr, Tumwesigwe said he wanted to believe the law in his country would not be carried out as enacted. “There are voices that feel this went beyond what it should have been,” he said. The law, Dr. Gobgab feared, would drive people underground.

NewWWRWe’re reading the concerns of other physicians this week, on why, as Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx has recently reiterated, “when anyone feels unsafe, no one is safe.”

Why Infectious Diseases specialists should take a stand against Africa anti-gay legislation – When Dr, Joel Gallant, chair of the HIV Medicine Association received a message from a physician who defended Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to sign the Parliament’s harsh and sweeping “Anti-Homosexality Act” into law, he writes, “I was stunned by this response because of its callous disregard for human rights and the glaring flaws in its reasoning.” He breaks it down here, for anyone who needs to back up arguments against cruelty with consequences, by giving the example of Joseph, a young man in Kampala for whom the new law has put life-saving information and services out of reach. The dangers, Gallant shows, go beyond Joseph, putting his wife and their unborn child at risk as well.

Pushback: The Current Wave of Anti-Homosexuality Laws and Impacts on Health – International AIDS Society President-elect Dr. Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points to the impact of Uganda’s law on services at the recently raided Makere University Walter Reed Programme, and also on the impact of police action in Senegal on health service outreach and uptake. He concludes, “the universality of human rights, and of the right of all persons to choose whom they love, must remain a fundamental part of international discourse and law.”

International Human Rights Defense Act will help global fight against AIDS – A bill introduced by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) this month would turn that concluding recommendation in Beyrer’s piece into policy. Dr. Ken Mayer, co-chair of the IDSA Center for Global Health Policy (which produces this blog), attending physician and director of Prevention Research at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center, and medical research director at the Fenway Institute explains here how the International Human Rights Defense Act would strengthen global AIDS treatment and prevention. “Recognizing the right of all people to health and dignity has supported impressive gains,” Mayer writes. The Act would establish an office within the State Department to coordinate efforts to defend the rights of sexual minorities globally, making coherent and consistent responses possible and effective.

Invitations to Museveni, Jonathan with additional rights abusing legislation pending sends mixed message at pivotal time – This letter, co-written by Mayer and Gallant spells out why consistent and strong responses to human rights violating legislation, particularly with a new such bill currently awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s signature. The parliament’s misleadingly named “HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, as noted here, would criminalize HIV transmission, force testing of pregnant women and sexual assault victims and compromise patient provider confidentiality, thus providing tremendous disincentives for Ugandans to seek healthcare and testing for HIV. Yet, with an invitation for himself and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to attend a White House summit for African leaders in August, in spite of the damaging health, safety and human rights impacts of their nations’ anti-gay laws, Museveni has little reason not to sign the new bill as well.


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