Saturday, March 6, 2010

Political and Religious Leaders Overseeing the Spread of HIV

There's an interesting article on about how Ugandans who think they may be HIV positive are less likely to refer other family members for HIV testing. In a survey, people were asked before testing if they thought they were likely to be HIV positive. A majority said they thought they were likely to be. Of course, only some of them were. But most of those who are HIV positive in the country do not know their status. This doesn't bode well for a country that is said to have been so successful and progressive in its fight against the disease.

The very people who are most likely to be HIV positive are least likely to go for testing. So you would think that the Ugandan government would aim to target these people, make it easier for them to get tested, increase access to HIV facilities, reduce discrimination and stigma. Instead, the government is going in the opposite direction, trying to whip up anti gay feelings and making such strong threats against people even suspected of being gay that most people will be less willing to find out their HIV status, whatever their circumstances.

The Bahati Bill will make a lot of people avoid even discussing HIV or sexuality because if someone is found to be gay, HIV positive and sexually active, they will face the death sentence. In order to cover up their sexuality, many gay people are said to have heterosexual relationships, even to marry a heterosexual partner. Their partner will even face a lengthy prison sentence for not reporting that they were married to a gay person. Currently, only an estimated one quarter of HIV positive people know their status. If this bill becomes law, that figure should go down even further.

Some leading American Christians are said to be behind Bahati's bill. But the Catholic church is equally adamant that condoms shouldn't be used to prevent unplanned pregnancy, HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. They even lie about the effectiveness of condoms, which would seem to be in breach of the ninth commandment. But as far as they are concerned, it is 'artificial contraception', and therefore immoral. The use of condoms is currently being debated in The Philippines, where HIV prevalence is low, but rising.

You would think that political and church leaders would aim to reduce transmission of HIV and to stamp out stigma and discrimination. But, on the contrary, they seem to be against any measures that target some of the most significant channels to HIV infection. We must look beyond political and religious leadership if we are to have any hope of making progress in the fight against HIV.


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