Uganda: Supporting LGBTQ Communities

Doctors of the World has been working in Uganda, where same sex relationships are punishable by imprisonment, since 2015. 

When Rihanna, 23, walks through Kampala, many passers by and shopkeepers stop and stare disapprovingly

Ignoring the admonitions of those around her, Rihanna bravely continues along the road to the cramped room that she has been renting for 6 months. When she was 16 years old, she attended a workshop supporting the LGBTQ community and began to realize that her identity did not match her biological gender. 4 years later, she was kicked out of the family home before she had been able to finish school and find a job. Rihanna is now used to people mocking her, insulting her, and even threatening her. She spends most of her time locked inside her room.

We provide access to healthcare for those rejected and excluded by mainstream Ugandan society.

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Since 2015, Doctors of the World has been working at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala with our local partner the Most At Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI). MARPI provides free healthcare services, such as screenings for seuxally transmitted diseases, for marginalized communities such as those identifying as LGBTQ, sex workers and drug users.

Doctors of the World has also helped MARPI increase their capacity by building new waiting rooms that are almost always full. Free condoms are provided to those who want them, and Doctors of the World has trained multiple doctors and nurses in the field of proctology.

“It takes a long time for patients to trust us because they are ashamed to be treated.” – Harriet Nanfuka, Head of Proctology Services

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In Uganda, homosexuality is illegal. Those engaging in same-sex relationships are often harrassed and thrown into jail. Identifying as LGBTQ can be extremely dangerous and Ugandan tabloids are known to publicly out and shame people who identify as gay by publishing their photos. In 2010, one tabloid posted dozens of people’s photographs next to the words: “Hang them.”

Gay men and women face constant intimidation, causing many to lead secret lives, afraid to be open about their relationships for fear of the repercussions and stigma they will face. 

For the LGBTQ community, accessing healthcare is extremely difficult in Uganda

Many members of the LGBTQ community are refused treatment by healthcare providers, which means diseases and illnesses remain undiagnosed – especially in rural regions. MARPI plays an important role in reaching those in the remoter areas of the country to ensure they receive access to healthcare. “Discrimination exists amongst healthcare providers too,” explains Peter Kyambadde, Director of MARPI, “But there is no law that says we cannot provide healthcare or provide psychological support to a person in need. Here our patients know they can be treated with respect.” 

Despite the threat of violence and constant harassment from the police and government, Doctors of the World, MARPI and other health groups continue to promote and defend the rights of the LGBTQ community in Uganda in the hopes that one day Rihanna can live openly and in peace.