ICW Calls for Apology from President Museveni of Uganda

The International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) is shocked and appalled by the recent statement from Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda that ‘to die of AIDS is an act of treason’.

ICW represents over 1000s of HIV positive women around the world. Many are striving to live their lives in the face of extreme stigma, discrimination and misinformation.

ICW members and staff in Uganda believe that President Museveni’s recent inflammatory comments to Student Guild Council officials from 12 Ugandan Universities fuel the fear, ignorance and prejudice displayed by society against people living with HIV and AIDS.

President Museveni claims that ‘to die of AIDS is treason. Why? Because you have betrayed your family, which had invested in you and hope that you would help them.’ He went on: ‘Instead of being an asset, you become a burden (when you get infected). And afterwards, they announce (over the radio) that he died after a very long illness…is that not treason?’

Associating HIV and AIDS, however erroneously, with treason means that many people will find it more difficult than ever to talk openly and honestly about living with HIV and AIDS. Blaming anyone who is HIV positive not only stigmatises all of us, it also increases violence against those who have been tested and/or are known or thought to be HIV positive. This will drive the epidemic further underground and away from effective prevention and care programmes which can only flourish in an open and supportive environment.

As HIV positive women we are proud of what we have done for our families, our communities and our countries and we stand united in our condemnation of the President’s shameful statement. Our members frequently report that it is when they meet other HIV positive people who encourage them to be as open as possible that their fear and isolation eases and they are more able to take control of their lives and more so prevent further spread of HIV.

Although Ugandan HIV positive women have made many important steps towards achieving our human, sexual and reproductive rights, there is still a long way to go. In this context, President Museveni’s comments are a personal attack on our integrity and ability to live positive and productive lives, which benefit our families, our communities, our country and ourselves.

ICW promotes and supports the human rights of all HIV positive people, including women, men, girls and boys and understands that no one chooses to become HIV positive. However, we must make it clear that large numbers of women are unable to even avoid situations that put them at risk of HIV transmission. Fear of abandonment, violence and loss of livelihoods seriously curtail a woman’s power to insist on safe sex. We need to address violence against women, inequality in relationships, poverty and stereotypes of what it means to live with HIV. We need to ask why so many men consider sex without condoms more important than keeping their partners and/or themselves safe.

With these thoughts in mind, ICW calls on President Museveni to clarify his words and to issue an apology to the HIV positive people of Uganda, and the world, which has long looked upon Uganda as a successful story of how to meet the challenges of HIV and AIDS. Let us work together productively and in open partnership to end the pandemic and allow those of us who are HIV positive to live in safety and fully participate more productively in our society.