U.S. Suspends Health Program in Uganda After Staffer Arrested Under Anti-Gay Law

The State Department announced that the U.S. suspended a healthcare clinic in Uganda after a government raid and arrest of one staffer under new anti-gay laws.

The law signed in February by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni hands down a sentence of life in prison for many same-sex acts. Also receiving prison time under the bill are those who don’t report gays to the government or any organizations or individuals that support gay rights. Ugandans can also be sentenced for attempted homosexual acts or same-sex activity committed outside the country.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today the administration is "deeply concerned" that a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), was raided by Ugandan authorities on Thursday.

One of the facility’s employees, a Ugandan accused of conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals," was arrested and released the same day.

"This incident significantly heightens our concerns about respect for civil society and the rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals," Harf said.

"The MUWRP is engaged in efforts to improve public health and save lives. The Ugandan government is responsible for protecting all of its people, and attacks and intimidation of health care workers are unacceptable. The safety of health workers must be respected. We have temporarily suspended the operations of MUWRP to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program."

The project is a collaboration between Makerere University and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program.

"We are working with police to understand the circumstances under which this person was detained. Until we have greater clarity as to the legal basis for the police action, the operations of the program are temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program. We are working directly with the patients of MUWRP to ensure there is no interruption in their care," the MUWRP said in a statement, referring further questions to the U.S. government.

The U.S. Military HIV Research Program has been conducting HIV research in Uganda since 1998 and expanded its portfolio to include prevention, care and treatment activities in 2005 under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The project recently expanded to studying other communicable diseases as well.