Africa

Zimbabwe inches toward battling HIV among LGBT people

U.S. Ambassador David Bruce Wharton (left) meets with Dr. Owen Mugurungi at last year's launch of an anti-AIDS program in Zimbabwe. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe)

U.S. Ambassador David Bruce Wharton (left) meets with Dr. Owen Mugurungi at last year’s launch of an anti-AIDS program in Zimbabwe. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe)

Zimbabwe may launch an anti-HIV program for LGBT people and sex workers, according to Dr. Owen Mugurungi, the Health Ministry’s leader for the fight against AIDS.

The government is “considering” starting programs that will include the gay community, according to a New Zimbabwe article on Mugurungi’s remarks, made in mid-December at a Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights workshop on HIV and AIDS.

But, oddly, a summary of his remarks in that same article states the news more strongly: “The government is going to create a specific HIV and AIDS programme targeting homosexuals and sex workers as a way of controlling the infection rate, a senior government official has revealed.” The headline also is bolder: “Govt to create HIV programme for gays.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Homosexuality has been a touchy subject in Zimbabwe because President Robert Mugabe often launches verbal attacks on gays, who he says are “lower than pigs and dogs” and should “rot in jail.” Under current Zimbabwean law, same-sex intimacy is punishable by a year in prison.

Zimbabwe’s overall HIV infection rate has been reduced to 15 percent from more than 27 percent in 1997, New Zimbabwe says. “There is no reliable estimate of prevalence among MSM (men who have sex with men)” in Zimbabwe, according to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR).

Mugurungi says that Zimbabwe can’t eliminate HIV infections without targeting HIV among sex workers, drug users, and MSM.

“Of course we should never forget these small populations of man who have sex with man; of drug users and sex workers. If we deal with the problem elsewhere and forget them, then infection will remain a problem,” he said.

In a separate interview, he also focused on HIV among MSM prisoners. The Zimbabwean reported:

Speaking to health reporters recently Dr Owen Mugurungi, the HIV and TB director in the Ministry of Health, said it was disastrous to ignore the fact that homosexuality was rife in the prisons.

“We might want to deny that men have sex with men but we know that in prisons that thing does happen,” he said.

Chesterfield Samba, the director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, applauded the move saying: “This is what we have been saying all along – that AIDS programmes should not be politicised because health knows no politics and we applaud the Health Ministry in ensuring health for all.”

He said government programming should address issues of stigma and discrimination, which have been a major problem. The response should address the structural and programmatic barriers that prevent no only prisoners from accessing services that address their health care needs, including access to information that is relevant, but also the LGBTI community.”

The article does not indicate that Mugurungi or anyone in the Zimbabwean government has a plan for dealing the problem of HIV-positive prisoners. But the headline says otherwise: “Govt to tackle homosexuality in prisons.”

4 thoughts on “Zimbabwe inches toward battling HIV among LGBT people

  1. Pingback: New hope in AIDS fight: Gay, MSM Africans find their voices | 76 CRIMES

  2. Pingback: Homophobic Zimbabwe obstructs anti-Aids workshop | 76 CRIMES

  3. Pingback: Zimbabwe politician: I would end LGBT persecution | 76 CRIMES

  4. Pingback: Under hidden rainbow, Zimbabwean gays celebrate power of film | 76 CRIMES

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