Will Zimbabwe really launch HIV programme for gays?

Galz Director Chesterfield Samba

Galz Director Chesterfield Samba

Despite harsh anti-gay laws, Zimbabwe’s health ministry says that it aims to reach gay men and other men who have sex with men with an HIV prevention programme.

According to New Zimbabwe, the ministry intends to create a specific programme targeting homosexuals and sex workers to combat the spread of the virus.

The newspaper quoted Dr Owen Mugurungi, Head of the HIV and TB unit in the Health and Child Care Ministry, speaking at a Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights HIV and Aids workshop in Harare on Thursday.

“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,” said Dr Mugurungi.

When asked how his ministry plans to reach these groups when they are effectively criminalised under the law, Mugurungi responded: “We are not promising to break the law because we do not want to break the law, but we are hoping that the law can be aligned to make sure that we do what is paramount.”

Earlier this month, Samuel Matsikure, Programme Manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz), told IPS that the Zimbabwean government had done little to address HIV amongst the LGBT community.

“In as far as combating HIV/AIDS is concerned, there are no national programmes targeted for minority groups or interventions that can easily be accessible by the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community on prevention and care within the public healthcare system,” said Matsikure.

Galz Director Chester Samba added: “Most healthcare facilities in Zimbabwe are not friendly to LGBTI persons, hindering disclosures of ailments like anal STIs [sexually transmitted infections] while sexual and reproductive health information for the LGBTI community is non-existent, creating a vacuum with healthcare facilities for minorities.”

“If you today walk into any government healthcare centre, be sure not to find any information or literature on gays and lesbians in as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned,” said Samba.

Gay sex and public affection are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. Same-sex marriage is also illegal, as entrenched in the country’s Constitution.

Considering President Robert Mugabe’s public condemnation and threats against the LGBT community it remains to be seen if the country’s health ministry will actually succeed in getting a gay-targeted HIV programme off the ground.

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