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Ugandan activists welcome new UNAIDS leader, Ugandan Winnie Byanyima

Gay rights activists in Uganda have welcomed the appointment of Ms Winifred ‘Winnie’ Karagwa Byanyima, a Ugandan national, as the new executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

From the African Human Rights Media Network

New UNAIDS leader Winnie Byanyima

By Kikonyogo Kivumbi

In a statement dated August 14, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Ms. Byanyima, an LGBTI ally, replacing outgoing Mali national Mr. Michel Sidibe.

Sidibé was appointed as Minister of Health and Social Affairs in his home country, Mali. “The Secretary-General is grateful for Dr. Sidibé’s leadership of UNAIDS from 2009 to 2019 at the forefront of the global response to HIV and AIDS,” the statement reads in part.

It adds: “The appointment follows an open and wide-ranging search process. Led by the Co-sponsoring Organizations and chaired by Dr. Natalia Kanem, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the process included interviews and consultations with Governments and other concerned parties through the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board”.

Dr Frank Mugisha of SMUG (left) after a meeting with UNAIDS Uganda chief Dr. Karusa Kiragu in Kampala in 2017. (Photo courtesy of UHSPA)

Activists from Spectrum Uganda, Sexual Minorities Uganda and Uganda Health and Science Press Association (Uhspa Uganda) and Action Group for Health and Human Rights (AGHA) noted that Byanyima has an open approach to human rights for all without discrimination.

“With pleasure we welcome the appointment of Mrs. Winnie Byanyima as the new Executive Director UNAIDS. It means a lot to us as a country as well as in the struggle for human rights and health rights,” a statement on Spectrum Uganda social media notes.

“Ugandan Health and Science Press Association welcomes the appointment of Ms Winnie Byanyima. We Ugandans are really proud to contribute our openness and transparency in ending HIV/Aids globally and remain grateful to her predecessor Michel Sidibe,” a statement on the Twitter feed of Uhspa Uganda stated.

“Wow, this is great great news. Congratulations!” said Dr. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella LGBT network.

Recently, Ms. Byanyima has disagreed with Ugandan Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on allowing her rejection of discussions at the Inter Parliamentary Union about gay rights.

She has also criticized Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for assenting to Uganda’s now-defunct anti-gay law.

Her appointment comes at a time when efforts are being made to eliminate HIV/AIDS globally. LGBTI and key populations in Uganda, as in many other parts of the world, face a high burden of HIV/AIDS due to legal and policy regimes that bar their access to life- saving prevention, care, treatment and support.

Mr. Guterres noted that Ms. Byanyima brings a wealth of experience and commitment in harnessing the power of government, multilateral agencies, the private sector and civil society to end the HIV and AIDS crisis for communities around the world.

Ms. Byanyima has been the executive director of Oxfam International since 2013. Prior to Oxfam, she served for seven years as the Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Ms. Byanyima began her career as a champion of marginalized communities and women some 30 years ago as a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly of Uganda. In 2004, she was named Director of Women and Development at the African Union Commission, working on the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, an international human rights instrument which became an important tool towards reducing the disproportionate effect of the HIV pandemic on the lives of women in Africa.

Kikonyogo Kivumbi, the author of this article, is the executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association.