Her Majesty the Queen visited a clinic for people with AIDS for the first time today.
During a state visit to Uganda the monarch shook hands with Steven Wakodo, who is HIV+, echoing the famous handshake between Diana, Princess of Wales and an HIV+ person in April 1987.
The Princess’s gesture helped overcome the fear of AIDS, demonstrating that the HIV virus cannot be transmitted by touch.
“The scourge of HIV infection and AIDS has touched the lives of too many Ugandan people,” Her Majesty said in a speech to patients and staff.
“Centres such as this, which the government of Uganda has done so much to encourage, are essential in achieving our common aim of controlling this cruel disease.”
The Queen is on her first visit to Uganda since 1954 and tomorrow she will open the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the capital Kampala.
The meeting, held every two years, is expected to be dominated by discussions about the situation in Pakistan.
53 heads of government, among them Prime Minister Gordon Brown, are in attendance.
In a speech to the Ugandan parliament today the Queen stressed the importance of democracy, a clear reference to Pakistan. She also praised Uganda.
“The deliberations and decisions of this House, together with your respect for the rule of law, have had and will continue to have an essential bearing on the country’s success in addressing many serious challenges,” she told MPs.
CHOGMs are one of the most important events in the Commonwealth calendar and take place every two years in a different country.
Almost one third of the world’s leaders are in attendance, and they come together to adopt common positions through consensus.
There were protests from gay rights activists at the decision to hold the three-day meeting in Uganda.
Last month James Nsaba Buturo, the country’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity, told All Africa news agency that the government is committed to stopping LGBT people “trying to impose a strange, ungodly, unhealthy, unnatural, and immoral way of life on the rest of our society.”
Members of Parliament in Uganda have urged the country’s government to speak out against gay rights at the CHOGM.
One MP, demanding a “clamp down” against lesbian and gay Ugandans, said that the international event, to be held in the capital later this month, would be a good opportunity to “send a clear message that gays are not welcome in Uganda.”
Ishaa Otto claimed that the gay community is growing:
“It’s unfortunate that the government is silent as if there is nothing happening. The society must rise up against homosexuality before it’s too late,” he said.
“The government should urgently table a new bill that criminalises homosexuality with punitive amendments that guarantee arrests to prevent the spread of gay practices.”
Gay sex is punishable in Uganda by life imprisonment, under laws originally introduced by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century.
2007 has seen the first gay rights press conference and the first anti-gay rally in Uganda.
In August gay rights activists in spoke out about the prejudice LGBT people face in the country.
30 people gave a press conference drawing attention to the state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia they face every day.
They called themselves the “homosexual children of God” and demanded that attacks on LGBT people stop.
Some of the activists wore masks for fear of being identified, while others shocked journalists by outlining the brutality they had faced at the hands of police.
Trans people are also targeted by police and regularly subject to abuse and harassment.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are also on a state visit to Uganda for the CHOGM.