Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Silent epidemic: Malawi’s HIV/AIDS infection rate among gays at 25%

The rate of HIV and AIDS infection among Malawian gays is as high as 25 per cent, raising fears the epidemic may have been silently sweeping through one of the country’s closed societies.
Homosexuality is currently criminalized in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) member state, a development observers say has left challenges such as HIV and AIDS operate at their own pace among gays as there are no direct interventions aimed at curbing the spread of HIV and AIDS among this controversial group.
Malawi’s efforts in responding to the challenges posed by HIV and AIDS have been lauded worldwide, culminating into its hosting of this year’s International Candle Memorial event. However, some of the groups perceived as controversial have been left out, increasing chances of high HIV and AIDS infection rates.
News that the rate of HIV and AIDS infection among Malawian gays was as high as 25 per cent came to the fore at a meeting of government principal secretaries and heads of department organized in the country’s Lakeshore district of Mangochi.
Secretary for Nutrition and HIV/AIDS in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr. Mary Shawa, acknowledged that the rate of HIV and AIDS infection among Malawian gays was higher than expected, and surprised the heads of government departments and principal secretaries when she revealed that, currently, it is at 25 per cent.
Responding to a question from Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Water Development and Irrigation, Andrina Mchiela, pertaining to the rate of infections among Malawian gays and lesbians, Dr. Shawa said:
“The rate is as high as 25 per cent. In fact, gay relationships are common among the elite in the country.”
This is the first time a high ranking official at the helm of Malawi’s efforts against the spread of HIV and AIDS has openly spoken out about the rate of infection among the country’s gay population, though she fell short of mentioning the prevalence rate among lesbians as there were no immediate figures currently.
The National AIDS Commission (Nac)- the coordinating body for Malawi’s HIV and AIDS support services- also added more icing on the cake when its Executive Director, Dr. Bizwick Mwale, expressed concern over spiraling cases of anal sex in the country.
Mwale said the “new problem” of anal sex among married couples was raising the risks of HIV and AIDS infection, calling for more efforts in raising awareness about the “dangers” associated with such forms of sex.
Malawi is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, considered the epicenter of the HIV and AIDS pandemic

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