(Bloomberg) -- Ugandan lawmakers’ push for stiffer penalties against homosexuality risks stunting progress made in reducing the spread of HIV in the East African country, the World Health Organization said.

The bill, which includes life-imprisonment and death sentences in certain cases, lists HIV positive offenders among those attracting the harshest punishments. The bill must still be signed by President Yoweri Museveni, a critic of LGBTQ, to become law.

As the HIV pandemic emerged, many countries realized the importance of decriminalizing the transmission of HIV, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said on Thursday in response to the news of the bill. 

Through that work, it’s known how “very important it is for people of all profiles, of all communities, who are vulnerable to infections to be able to have access to care and treatment,” Moeti said.

Uganda has made considerable progress cutting its HIV rates in recent years. About 5.8% of Ugandans from the age of 15 years have HIV, according to a study released in August. That compares with 14% of blood donors and 15% of antenatal clinic attendees in major urban centers testing as HIV positive in 1987. Rates among sex workers and truck drivers were much higher at that time, data shows.

Now, of the estimated 1.5 million people living with HIV in the country, the vast majority know their status and about 1.2 million are on treatment.

African peers such as Zimbabwe decriminalized HIV exposure, non-disclosure, and transmission, while the Central African Republic reduced the scope of its HIV criminal laws, according to UNAIDS.

On homosexuality, Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Singapore and Barbados have repealed laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity, it said.

Globally, there are only six countries that impose the death penalty for same-gender sexual acts. These include Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria and Yemen.

“What’s different in this law from most other laws that we know, is that it not only criminalizes activity, that is consensual same-sex activities, it would as well criminalize identities,” Julia Ehrt, executive director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex association said by phone. “It would open the floodgates to witch hunts in Uganda against LGBTI people.”

Often treatment for groups that are stigmatized is organized at the community level, WHO’s Moeti said. 

“The role of communities is critical,” she said. “We’d like to continue to have this possibility of community intervention to make sure that people who are living with HIV and are at risk of HIV can access treatment and prevention interventions.”

--With assistance from Fred Ojambo.

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