The Washington Blade has confirmed the U.S. has not renewed a program with the Ugandan Ministry of Health that helps fund the country’s HIV/AIDS response after an anti-gay bill became law.
The agreement that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the epidemic expired on Feb. 28.
Reuters late on Thursday reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent $3.9 million on the program last year, but a U.S. official did not say how much aid the Obama administration has withheld. A spokesperson for the Ugandan Ministry of Health told the news agency it would “no longer be able to access money from a fund” to purchase anti-retroviral drugs and HIV testing kits.
A source familiar with the aid program told the Blade on background the funds sent to the Ugandan Ministry of Health were not used to purchase or distribute anti-retroviral drugs. The source added the expiration of the contract will not “directly impact” the “ability to deliver lifesaving medications in Uganda” through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through PEPFAR to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.
“We did not renew these contracts because we wanted to have a dialogue with the government of Uganda about whether it should assume greater responsibility for core government functions associated with HIV/AIDS response, including these salaries,” said the source familiar with the Ugandan Ministry of Health aid program.
The program expired four days after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
The Obama administration subsequently announced it is reviewing its relationship with the Ugandan government over the issue. The World Bank, the Netherlands and other European countries have postponed loans or cut aid to the East African country after Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
Dickson Mujuni of the RPF AIDS Foundation told the Blade late last month during a telephone interview from Kampala, the Ugandan capital, his organization has had to abandon plans to build a hospital because of the anti-gay law. Mujuni said gay and lesbian Ugandans have also gone “underground.”
“The community is very scared, very worried,” Mujuni told the Blade.
A coalition of Ugandan human rights organizations that includes HIV/AIDS and LGBT advocates on March 11 filed a challenge to the law with the country’s Constitutional Court.
The State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the law’s “negative impact” on fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other public health initiatives during a telephone call with Museveni on Feb. 27.
“It complicates our relationship with Uganda,” Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade in a follow-up interview. “We have deep concerns about the law posing a threat to the safety and security of the LGBT community, but also the safety and protection of all Ugandan citizens.”