Uganda’s progress in the fight against HIV is “seriously at risk” after the president passes tough new anti-homosexuality legislation, the UN and US warn.
An increasing number of people are being discouraged from seeking essential health services for fear of attack and punishment, she added.
President Yoweri Museveni signed the law against homosexuality after parliament weakened it.
It is still one of the strictest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world.
Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, but now a convicted person faces life imprisonment.
The legislation imposes the death penalty for so-called serious cases, including having gay sex with someone under the age of 18 or if someone is infected with a lifelong illness, including HIV.
In a joint statement, three of the world’s leading health campaign groups — the US President’s Emergency Plan to Fight AIDS (Pepfar), UNAids and the Global Fund — said they were deeply concerned about the “damaging impact” of the legislation.
“Uganda’s progress in HIV response is now in serious jeopardy,” the statement said.
“The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the law has already resulted in reduced access to prevention and treatment services,” it added.
In a statement later Monday, US President Joe Biden described the passing of the law as a “tragic violation of universal human rights” and urged Uganda to immediately repeal the legislation.
Biden also said Washington was considering “additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restrictions on entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights violations or corruption.”
The legislation has also been condemned by Ugandan campaign groups, which have taken legal action to have the legislation annulled on the grounds that it is discriminatory and violates the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
A similar law was struck down by Uganda’s constitutional court in 2014.
Ugandan rights activist Clare Byarugaba said it was a “very dark and sad day” for the LGBTQ+ community and all Ugandans, Reuters news agency reported.
“The Ugandan president today legalized state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia,” the activist added.
Parliamentary speaker Anita Among welcomed Mr Museveni’s decision to sign the bill into law, saying it would “protect the sanctity of the family”.
“We have stood strong to defend our people’s culture, values and aspirations,” she added statement posted on Twitter.
Ugandan lawmaker Asuman Basalirwa, the sponsor of the anti-homosexuality bill, told the BBC’s Newshour: “It doesn’t bother anyone if two adults have private gay sex. And even then, the law doesn’t look for those who keep their things private.
“But once you try to do it in public and then recruit others to do things your way, that’s where the problem is.”
The lawmaker also told reporters that the US canceled a visa issued to the speaker, making her the first official to face punitive action under the new law.
The US embassy in Uganda has not yet commented.
The bill was passed in parliament earlier this month, with only one MP opposed.
The US is an important trading partner of Uganda. The East African country benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives it easier access to lucrative US markets.
The US, UNAids and The Global Fund have also been instrumental in supporting Uganda’s long-standing efforts to curb HIV/AIDS.
By 2021, 89% of people living with HIV in Uganda knew their status, more than 92% of them were on antiretroviral therapy and 95% of those in treatment were virus suppressed, they said in their statement.
“Together we call for the law to be reconsidered so that Uganda can continue on its path to ensuring fair access to health services and ending AIDS as a threat to public health by 2030,” the statement said.