'Bad' laws hurt sex workers, gays from Uganda to Nepal, AIDS meeting told

Mon Jul 21, 2014 10:01am EDT
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By Katie Nguyen

MELBOURNE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After Uganda passed a law that punished gay sex with long prison sentences, Daisy Nakato got a visit from the police.

The country's Red Pepper tabloid had outed hundreds of gays after President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-homosexuality bill in February and Nakato's name was on a list.

Over the following six hours, Nakato, a bisexual sex worker, begged the police not to arrest her.

"I had to stay in hiding for over a week without taking ARV (antiretroviral) medication. A lot of people are going through the same thing. A lot of people have run to neighboring countries," Nakato told delegates at an AIDS conference in the Australian city of Melbourne on Monday.

The law has broad support in religiously conservative Uganda, which is among 37 African nations where homosexuality is illegal.

But one of the major concerns of the gathering of 12,000 AIDS activists, scientists and people living with HIV is how the criminalization of groups at high risk of HIV - such as gay men, sex workers and transgender people - is threatening progress in the global effort to fight AIDS.

Prostitution is illegal in 116 countries, and in 78 countries, having a same-sex relationship is a criminal offense.

"We know that criminalization is bad health policy. It is bad public policy. It doesn't work to prevent the spread of disease. In fact, it does just the opposite," the U.S. ambassador to Australia, John Berry, told a discussion on the state of legislation in India, Nepal and the United States, among others.   Continued...