The U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, H.E Natalie Brown, has asked government to invest in approaches that remove legal barriers to HIV/AIDS services including treatment.

She made the remarks on Friday during the launch of the Legal Environment Assessment for HIV/AIDS report in Uganda.

The report was undertaken by the Government of Uganda with support from USAID to identify the legal and policy impediments that affect equitable provision of treatment services.

The assessment recognizes that the equal worth and dignity of every person is not only ethical, but it is also critical for ending AIDS in Uganda.

“While Ugandan laws do not explicitly legislate against or on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, the laws which criminalize sex work, sexual relations between people of the same sex, and drug possession reinforce social stigma and fuel harassment of persons living with HIV. They deprive them of their rights to liberty, physical integrity, freedom of association, and good health,” says the Ambassador.

“These laws result in too many people falling through the country’s care and treatment safety net. There is an increasing recognition that the goal of ending AIDS cannot be achieved unless a country invests in approaches that remove legal barriers, shift harmful social and gender norms, and reduce inequalities,” she adds.

She argues that laws and policies based on public health evidence and protection of individual rights are the foundation of an enabling legal environment.

“These laws and policies have the potential to transform the impact of a country’s HIV response,” he says.

Uganda has long been considered one of the world’s most compelling success stories in combating the spread of HIV. The country’s early adoption of a multi-sectoral approach to HIV and AIDS, and its recognition that the epidemic was not only a public health problem but also a complex development challenge, helped reduce HIV infection rates.

According to Ambassador Natalie Brown, building on this early success, Uganda continues to make significant progress.

“It is on target to meet 2025 benchmarks and is steadily advancing toward epidemic control. Here, as in many East and Southern African countries, the gap between achievements to date and the goal of ending the HIV epidemic remains formidable,” she notes.

“Across the continent, HIV-related stigma and discrimination persist, exacerbating the vulnerability of key populations and negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of millions of people living with HIV. HIV disproportionately affects the most marginalized and under-served people,” she adds.

Sharing the story of Murungi, an HIV positive woman who lives in Luzira, a suburb in Kampala, H.E Natalie say a lot has got to be done by government to enable Ugandans living with HIV to speak out without fear of being stigmatized.

At the tender age of four, Murungi’s mother died, leaving her HIV positive father to raise her. Her extended family shunned her as she grew up. They denied
Murungi’s father his inheritance, certain he would soon die.

As a child, Murungi was not allowed to play with friends or family. She didn’t learn why until she turned 18, when her father revealed her HIV status to her. Murungi learned that she was born HIV positive, but was never told, because of the stigma associated with the disease.

The stigma took away her childhood, deprived her of opportunities, and left her as an outcast. But Murungi decided to chart a different path.

She took action and did not let the stigma of her HIV status stop her from living a full life. She found a PEPFAR-supported health facility and soon received care.

She participated in the facility’s peer support groups and counseling. The facility staff encouraged her to return to school, and she graduated from high school.

Today, she is a youth counselor for the National Forum of People Living with HIV in Uganda. She is happily married, and her baby is HIV negative.

“While Murungi’s story had a happy ending, there are many other stories like hers that do not. Many Ugandans living with HIV are not able to break away from the stigma. This is why it is so important to implement the recommendations outlined in the Legal Environment Assessment for HIV and AIDS in Uganda Report,” says the Ambassador.

“Everyone deserves to live their life free of discrimination and stigma. The report offers an evidence-based framework by which to expand protections to those who routinely encounter discrimination.

The report she says provides guidance on implementing and enforcing laws that protect rights, foster gender equality, support civil society and community engagement, and strengthen accountability.

“These laws advance an environment of tolerance and mutual respect so that even the most vulnerable people in society feel protected,” notes the Ambassador.

She further urged the Government of Uganda, the donor community, and partners to wholeheartedly support the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

Kungu Al-Mahadi Adam is an experienced Ugandan multimedia Journalist with a background of fact checking and thorough research. He is very passionate about current African affairs particularly Horn of Africa. He...

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