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UGANDA: Stigma, discrimination holding back HIV fight

Photo: Glenna Gordon/IRIN
Scourge of gender violence
GULU, 18 September 2008 (PlusNews) - The recent slaying of a woman in western Uganda by her husband after he tested positive for HIV has highlighted the need for the government to tackle HIV-related human rights abuses.

The man is reported to have hacked his wife to death in August, after accusing her of infecting him with the virus. Following the incident, HIV-positive protesters marched through the capital, Kampala, calling on the government to provide greater protection to people living with HIV. At least three similar incidents have been reported around the country in the past year alone.

Women are most likely to be the targets of HIV-related violence. According to recent statistics from the anti-poverty NGO, ActionAid Uganda, in the eastern district of Pallisa, 100 out of 465 women who disclosed their HIV status to their spouses experienced violence as a result.

"The level of stigma is so high in the country and this is negatively affecting the struggle to control the spread of the virus because people are fearing to disclose their status," Noerine Kaleeba, founder of the national NGO, The AIDS Support Organisation,  said recently during a meeting for her organisation in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu.

She noted that conservative northern Uganda had a particularly high level of stigma. "Two teachers early this year had their names deleted from the payroll and were chased away from staff quarters after absconding from duty while on treatment," she said.

Kaleeba said high levels of stigma were also impeding the drive to get more people to utilise HIV testing and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment services. "Some people think that those who go for voluntary counselling and testing are HIV-positive and this discourages other people," she said, adding that men were particularly reluctant to test.

According to a report by the public policy NGO, the Open Society Initiative for East Africa (OSIEA), while the Ugandan government has taken measures to deal with medical aspects of HIV/AIDS, widespread human rights abuses and a lack of legal services continue to fuel the country's HIV epidemic. The report documents several forms of stigma and discrimination, including: barriers to employment or education; discrimination in gaining access to medical care; violations of the right to medical privacy; forced HIV testing; and eviction from housing.

Although Uganda lacks explicit legislation relating to HIV/AIDS, various laws including an Equal Opportunities Act passed in 2007 provide a legal basis for people living with and affected by HIV to challenge discrimination. The OSIEA report points out, however, "a glaring gap between what Uganda has agreed to on paper and what it has implemented in practice".

In reality, Ugandans who experience HIV-related human rights abuses have little access to legal services and limited knowledge about their rights.
OSIEA is attempting to fill this gap with the establishment of a Law and Health Initiative that links legal services for people living with HIV to existing HIV/AIDS programmes.

Uganda's parliament is currently debating bills on domestic violence, sexual offences and domestic relations.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Gender Issues, (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, (IRIN) Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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