The walls could soon collapse against homophobia in Malawi’s fight against HIV and AIDS following government’s acknowledgement the war against the pandemic cannot be won without the involvement of the country’s gay community.
Homosexuality is currently outlawed in the Southern African Development Community member state, a replica sign of general homophobic tendencies by most African governments who view gays and lesbians as outcasts.
But, in one of the most encouraging signs yet for Malawian gays, the Office of the President and Cabinet- through its Department for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS- has acknowledged that government would be hitting blanks in the fight against HIV and AIDS without comprehensive gay involvement mechanisms.
Principal Secretary for the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS, Dr. Mary Shawa, said gays are crucial in the fight, adding, however, there was need for openness about one’s sexual orientation among gays for government interventions to be tailor-made to carter for their needs.
Shawa described gays as one of the most risky groups when it came to the issue of HIV and AIDS infections, a development she said was being exacerbated by the closed nature of people of such sexual orientation.
She said this was thwarting the country’s progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS, as well as meeting the 2010 target for Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support.
“It is difficult for government to fully assist and recognise the homosexuals since those involved have not come in the open. I am looking at it from the (HIV and AIDS) prevention point of view,” said Shawa.
“The problem with homosexuals is that most of them are also married (to women and men), so much so that it becomes difficult to help them in such a situation”, something he referred to as a very big challenge.
Her sentiments coincide with the opening of a conference on HIV and AIDS and Most-at-Risk Populations in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, this week.
Apart from homosexuals, the other groups also at the most risk of contracting HIV and AIDS include commercial sex workers, prisoners, people living with HIV and AIDS as well as couples in stable relationships.
Shawa called for a human rights approach, as opposed to legal approach, in the delivery of HIV and AIDS services to gays and other risky groups.
UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Malawi, Patrick Brenny, said effective prevention of HIV and the reduction of new infections called for the need to focus on human rights violations that often prevent the risk groups from accessing HIV information and services.