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Anti-gay Malawi law is pro-AIDS

Malawi's location in East Africa
Malawi’s location in East Africa

Malawi has made progress in the fight against AIDS, but still has laws in place that allow the disease to flourish.

That’s the finding of research by the Journalists Association Against AIDS (JournAIDS) in Malawi with support from the Southern Africa AIDS Trust (SAT).

A key finding is that the fight against AIDS is hindered by Malawi’s law providing for prison terms of up to 14 years for consensual same-sex relations.

Mary Shawa, an AIDS-fighting Malawian official, said the country’s HIV infection rate has dropped to about 12 percent, down from the previous 14 percent.

But Muza Gondwe, a Malawian expert in HIV and AIDS research, said that a survey of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Malawi, Namibia and Botswana found that 30 percent fear discussing their status because of concerns of stigma and discrimination despite feeling comfortable with their sexual oriantation.

Muza Gandwe (Photo courtesy of BMJ.com)
Muza Gandwe (Photo courtesy of BMJ.com)

“They also found that only 9 percent of the men in the study had disclosed to a health care worker and less than 60 percent of the men had ever Voluntary Conselling and Testing,” Gondwe said.

“At least 16.6 percent had both concurrent relationships with men and women. Over 40 per cent reported experiencing human rights abuses including blackmail and denial of housing and health care.”

Actup.org reported that researchers noticed a link between MSM having been blackmailed and not taking an HIV test in the previous 6 months, suggesting that stigma was preventing men from getting HIV tests.

“By continuing to deny MSM equality as members of society because of cultural, religious or political reasons, we seriously harm any progress in managing the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” Gondwe said.

A United Nations-supported survey found that the HIV infection rate of 21.4 percent among MSM in Malawi, compared to 12 percent in the population overall.

A study by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and others found that 17.4 percent HIV rate among MSM in Malawi, Namibia and Botswana.

“At least 16.6 percent had both concurrent relationships with men and women. Over 40 per cent reported experiencing human rights abuses including blackmail and denial of housing and health care,” said Gondwe.

“Stigma and cultural intolerance are the main stumbling blocks preventing men who have sex with men accessing testing, prevention, treatment and care services,” said Gondwe.

Allout.org reported:

After taking the reins of power following president Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in April this year, President Joyce Banda’s administration breathed some hope in minority groups by promising that it would repeal the laws that were infringing rights of minorities including Men having sex with men (MSM) and lesbians or Women having sex with Women (WSM).

Undule Mwakasungula (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International -- Deutschland)
Undule Mwakasungula (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International — Deutschland)

However, recently Banda made announced that her government will not revisit the said laws a matter that has shocked CSOs who have been fighting for such rights.

“It’s very unfortunate that Malawi Government has changed its tune on this matter and minority rights in particular, minority rights are part and parcel of democracy,” said Undule Mwakasungula, a prominent Malawian human-rights campaigner, Executive Director for the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and National Coordinator for the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) a grouping of over 100 Malawian Non-Governmental-Organizations (NGOs).

The report also cited public health problems caused by criminalization of abortion and sex work. Also, the constitution allows marriage under age 16 with parental consent, although this can expose girls to gender-based violence, cervical cancer, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV and AIDS risks as well as death during childbirth.

For more information, read the full article in Allout.org: Malawi – Some laws fueling HIV infections.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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