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President Museveni's Visit Protested by HIV/AIDS Experts

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This week in Washington, experts and activists on global health and HIV/AIDS protested a visit by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, acting on concerns raised by a number of Ugandan organizations and human rights groups. Mr. Museveni visited the US to give a speech on AIDS policy, sponsored by a number of US organizations, and to meet with President Bush.

"Ugandans deserve respect and recognition for their hard work in fighting HIV/AIDS, yet it is wrong for the sponsors of Museveni's speech to praise his leadership on AIDS," said Dr. Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of the Global AIDS Alliance. The sponsors stated their intention was to honor the "leadership and guidance in the fight against AIDS" provided by Mr. Museveni.

"In Uganda, President Museveni and his wife have ample opportunities to express their polarizing and stigmatizing opinions, so why should Museveni be given a platform to do so in the US? The sponsors of his talk, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Africare, Africa Society, and Constituency for Africa are misguided in choosing to honor President Museveni," he said.

Human Rights Watch, in a letter to President Bush prior to his meeting with President Museveni, urged Bush to raise human rights concerns. The group called attention to Museveni's statements, noting: "President Museveni's statements and parliament's proposed criminalization of HIV transmission will only undermine the fight against a worsening epidemic by creating an environment of blame and discrimination."

In earlier years, Museveni's administration showed leadership in promoting a comprehensive approach to AIDS. More recently, however, President Museveni has veered away from evidence-based approaches that respect human rights, instead promoting abstinence-only strategies and condemning condom distribution:

* He has said that condoms are only appropriate for "high risk" groups like prostitutes and truck drivers and at an international AIDS summit in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004, Museveni decried condoms as encouraging promiscuity, and lashed out at them as inappropriate for Ugandans. "I look at condoms as an improvisation, not a solution," Museveni said, adding that he preferred "optimal relationships based on love and trust instead of institutionalized mistrust, which is what the condom is all about."

* First Lady Janet Museveni said in an interview with the BBC World Service that condom distribution pushes young people into sex and recently equated condom use with theft and murder.

President Museveni also continues to perpetuate the spread of misinformation and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS:

* Uganda's Monitor reports that on Sept. 24, 2007, during a speech to officials from 12 Ugandan universities, Museveni said of a person who contracts HIV, "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?" According to the Monitor, treason is a capital offense punishable by death in Uganda.

* He said in an interview with the Washington Times that "AIDS is not a serious sickness ... because it's not very contagious" and that people can easily avoid acquiring the virus.

* Military spokesperson Maj. Felix Kulaije in April 2006 said the Ugandan armed forces no longer will train HIV-positive soldiers and will not consider them for advancement.

* Museveni announced that because Uganda "has no homosexuals," HIV is not spread through homosexual contact there. However, Uganda not only has homosexuals, but Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented that homosexuals have suffered systematic abuse at the hands of the government.

SOURCE Global AIDS Alliance
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