UNICEF HIV/AIDS Office Head Kolker Expresses Concern Over Ugandan President Museveni’s Comments on AIDS-Related Deaths, Treason
Jimmy Kolker, head of UNICEF's HIV/AIDS office, on Friday said that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's comments earlier in the week comparing AIDS-related deaths to treason could lead to stigma and discrimination against people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, Uganda's Monitor/AllAfrica.com reports.
Museveni on Sept. 24 during a speech to officials from 12 Ugandan universities 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.
Kolker, who previously has served as assistant U.S. global AIDS coordinator and U.S. ambassador to Uganda, in a Sept. 28 e-mail to the Monitor said it is important to ensure Museveni's comments "do not contribute to stigma, misunderstanding and divisions." Kolker recognized Museveni's earlier efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in the country but added, "We need him (Museveni) to remain a spokesman for the positive messages needed to prevent AIDS and mobilize people to continue the fight for the affected."
According to the Monitor/AllAfrica.com, under Museveni's leadership, HIV prevalence in Uganda has decreased from a double-digit percentage in the early 1990s to 6.4% currently because the government instituted the ABC HIV prevention model -- which stands for abstinence, be faithful and use condoms -- and other measures. HIV/AIDS advocates in the country have not publicly responded to Museveni's comments (Butagira, Monitor/AllAfrica.com, 10/1).
Related Opinion Piece
Will Museveni's comments cause "all the time spent raising awareness around HIV/AIDS and fight stigma" to go "down the drain?" the Rev. Amos Kasibante, coordinating chaplain at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, asks in a Monitor opinion piece. Kasibante writes that there are other "medical and nonmedical conditions" that could cause people to become a "burden" -- such as high blood pressure, cancer, stroke and a "whole host of things." He adds, "If we can stretch treason without limit, should we also not accuse other groups of treason?" (Kasibante, Monitor, 10/1).