Thursday, 19 January 2017

Is Homophobia Responsible for Fueling the Risk of HIV among LGBTI in African Countries?

Barely nine months after the Court of Appeal in Botswana ruled in favour of registration of *LEGABIBO, the clergy in Malawi and their faithful took it to the streets on 6 December, 2016 in protest against legalization of same sex marriages in the country. The mass protests that attracted thousands of people in all major cities of the country were triggered by a proposal that the Members of Parliament should deliberate on whether same sex marriages should be legalized or not.  

My conversations with some of the people who exercised their freedom of expression and assembly to collectively remonstrate against the passing of such a Bill cited a number of reasons that ranged from religion to culture. However, my worry was that no one mentioned HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and I wondered why?  

In my view, our biggest worry seems to be HIV/AIDS and the clergy as well as all citizens in Malawi really want to see the end of HIV. We all want to defeat AIDS but only a few are fully committed to the fight against its spread. Frankly speaking, the epidemic (AIDS) has devastated our lives in so many ways so much that it is among the common enemies that we all have. Now, this takes me to the issue of looking at those who have the highest risk of contracting and transmitting HIV who, according to UNAIDS are described as the Key Populations. These include female sex workers as well as Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). It is very ironic to note that the very same key populations are the ones who face a lot of difficulties when they want to access sexual reproductive health care services.  The LGBTI in general have the least access to prevention, care, and treatment services due to the fact that the society deems them as sinful as well as immoral. The stigma and discrimination that follows this kind of reasoning also stand in their way to access health services.

I am not saying what should be legalized or not but I simply want to express the feeling I have that the lack of a legal environment that supports access to health care services has implications on the spread of HIV.
HIV has caused enough damage already and the last thing we need to do is prevent other people from accessing information on how they can prevent contracting the virus or infecting others. I also believe that everyone needs health care services regardless of race, age gender or what have you. Young people who are LGBTI are two times more likely to suffer as compared to older people. This also means a good number of young people are not able to access prevention, care and treatment on such grounds and it is so sad that this is the only group in our country’s population that comprises leaders of today and tomorrow.

HIV messages should be tailor made to suit various groups of people in the society including sex workers and the LGBTI. I truly believe that we can fight AIDS with more than medicine. Raising awareness on how one can prevent contracting the virus or how to avoid infecting others is also the best approach. It is very hard for us to win the fight against AIDS unless all groups of people have adequate information.

HIV prevalence in most African countries like Malawi is shockingly high and it is very unfortunate the continent is the epicenter of homophobia and LGBTI is sadly Africa’s last taboo.  
 * LEGABIBO is an acronym for; Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana which is an association for the LGBTI community in Botswana.

The views in this blog are those of the author 

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