Homosexuals, long considered outcasts in Uganda, will in a new deal agreed between government and the Global Fund get $2 million or Shs 7.3 billion worth of specialized services.
The Global Fund grant is part of a new anti-HIV/Aids programme aimed at availing safe sex services for Most-at-risk populations (MARPs). Among the benefits will be lubricants and condoms to be distributed free of charge to MARPs (also known as key populations), who include men who have sex with men (MSM), fishing communities, boda boda riders, truckers and sex workers.
A one-year pilot project funded by the Danish International Development Agency (Danida) to the tune of $470,000 (Shs 1.7 billion), has set up MARPs clinic facilities at Mulago national referral hospital, Mbarara, Gulu and Mbale regional referral hospitals. The project ends December.
Dr Joshua Musinguzi, manager of the Aids Control Programme (ACP) in the ministry of health, said government would maintain and equip the clinics to continue rendering services to MARPs. Accordingly, the ministry has set up a multi-stakeholder desk to ensure that MARPs are included in the country’s anti-HIV/Aids programming.
“So, key populations will not be left out as it has been in the past,” Musinguzi said last week while presiding at a function organised by Community Health Alliance of Uganda (CHAU), which implemented the Danida-funded MARPs pilot project.
“They [MARPs] are people like us and they should get services without discrimination,” Musinguzi said in closing remarks at the function held on September 4 at Fairway hotel in Kampala.
Gay condoms and lubes, used during anal sex, are not readily available on the market because gays and general homosexuality are a taboo in Uganda. Although, the anti-homosexuality act was nullified last year, homosexuality remains a crime under the penal code. Gays and lesbians go about their business out of the public eye.
Musinguzi explained that the money to buy lubricants for gays and condoms for other MARPs will be channeled through the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) and TASO, which maintain direct and routine contact with such populations. Selected NGOs will distribute the items to MARPs.
Apart from buying lubricants and condoms, the two-year Global Fund grant will be used for sensitization, counseling and training health personnel to handle MARPs.
A joint study by the ministry of health and Makerere University School of Public Health found that widespread social stigma remains the main barrier for MARPs to access anti-HIV/Aids services. This has led to high HIV prevalence rates amongst isolated populations.
However, experts are optimistic that the trend can be reversed if government maintains the MARPs model clinics, which have produced instant results. According to CHAU’s audit report, as many as 2,500 target people visited and received either treatment or information at the clinics between May and August this year.
Bharam Namanya, executive director of CHAU, said they have trained 20 health workers and 60 peer educators in delivering friendly services to MARPs through the project.