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January 4, 2010 at 9:45 AM

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Ugandan anti-gay legislation could undermine health efforts

Posted by Kristi Heim

Ugandans could face the death penalty for being homosexual, according to a bill under consideration in the Ugandan parliament. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill can be traced back to remarks by several American evangelicals, as today's story details.

The bill has drawn worldwide outrage, and well known U.S. Christian leaders have condemned it as "un-Christian."

Seen from a global health perspective, the implications for addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic are dire and could reverse the country's previous successes. The legislation would impose the death penalty for active homosexuals living with HIV.

Doctors treating HIV-positive gays could also be prosecuted for "aiding and abetting homosexuality," and some are clearly afraid.

World Vision, the Christian relief agency which has worked in Uganda since the mid-80s, said the legislation could undermine its work by stigmatizing people in communities it targets, according to Rudo Kwaramba, World Vision Uganda national director.

"Uganda is one of the first countries in which we started HIV education and prevention programs," Kwaramba said in a statement. "One of World Vision 's prevention models aims to reduce any stigma which may deter people from seeking to know their HIV status."

World Vision President Richard Stearns has been instrumental in getting more evangelical churches involved in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Such churches had been reluctant to help before because they regarded AIDS as a gay disease, or opposed condom distribution.

Kwaramba said World Vision is committed to working in Uganda regardless of whether the legislation is passed. However, to comply with the law, they could be forced to report homosexuals to the authorities.

The largest private international aid agency, World Vision has more than 500 staff members in the country.

As in other nations, "World Vision's work in Uganda is community-based and child-focused; the sexual orientation of those we serve, or those with whom we collaborate, does not arise," Kwaramba said.

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