On September 24, President Museveni of Uganda was addressing officials from 12 Ugandan universities in Kampala when he compared contracting HIV/AIDS to treason. According to the Monitor, he said to those who contract HIV/AIDS, “Instead of being an asset, you become a burden. … And afterwards, they announce that [the person] has died after a very long illness … is that not treason?” One should note that treason is a capital offence in Ugandan law, one punishable by death.
This statement came as a surprise to many, recognizing that past anti-AIDS activists have consistently commended the Ugandan leaders’ stanch commitment to fight the deadly epidemic and have even offered him a number of coveted awards for his excellent work in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Under Museveni, Uganda has pursued the ABC model: abstinence, be faithful to a sexual partner, and correct and consistent use of condoms, which enabled the country to drastically cut back national HIV prevalence from a double-digit percentage in the early 1990s down to 6.4 percent today.
“We do cite Uganda’s [HIV] success stories and the President’s role in them,” Jimmy Kolker, head of UNICEF ‘s HIV/AIDS office and former assistant U.S. global AIDS coordinator and U.S. ambassador to Uganda, wrote in an email to the Monitor.
“We need him [Museveni] to remain a spokesman for the positive messages needed to prevent AIDS and mobilize people to continue the fight for the affected,” he added.
Although many fear the consequence Museveni’s words will have on the fight against the discrimination and stigma that comes with the disease, leading HIV/AIDS activists in the country have not publicly responded to the President’s remarks.
Here at AFJN, we will continue to help fight the stigma of the HIV/AIDS virus as it is a hindrance to people receiving the life-saving treatment they need. Museveni’s words show us that although much work has been done in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, there are still obstacles to overcome and we must continue to advocate on behalf of those who have been marginalized.