In Zimbabwe, sexual minorities often do not receive appropriate treatment for HIV / AIDS | D + C
Gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe who are HIV positive find it difficult to seek treatment. They are afraid of being criminalized. Too many public health workers are homophobic.
Tavengwa Sidingo has been locked in his apartment for two years. On his first visit to one of the HIV / AIDS testing centers in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, he was told to bring his wife to be tested as well. But Tavengwa Sidingo, 31, has neither a wife nor a girlfriend. He’s a gay sex worker.
“When I tested positive for HIV, I boldly told the doctors that I was a gay sex worker,” he says. “But then I couldn’t continue to go to the health center for treatment. Health care workers insulted him for his sexuality. In Zimbabwe it is a crime to be gay or lesbian.
Longtime former president Robert Mugabe hated the country’s sexual minorities, calling them “worse than dogs and pigs.” Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has yet to express his views. Sexual minorities are generally repressed. The country’s constitution does not allow same-sex marriages.
One form of homophobia involves blaming sexual minorities for the spread of HIV / AIDS.
“People believe that sexual minorities are cursed and therefore accuse us of bringing AIDS into communities,” said Marceline Ndou, a 24-year-old lesbian based in the Zimbabwean capital.
Ndou is HIV positive and lives with her partner. However, obtaining the necessary antiviral drugs is not easy. “We secretly buy our own treatment drugs because we fear being victimized if we go to public health centers,” says Ndou.
Zimbabwe Gays and Lesbians is a militant non-governmental organization. They are pushing for minority rights and stress that gays and lesbians living with HIV find it difficult to seek treatment in public health facilities in a country with a largely homophobic government and population.
Meanwhile, public health officials say they are contacting anyone living with HIV. “We don’t discriminate against people because of their sexuality,” says Adonija Muzondiona, Harare provincial director for the National AIDS Council (NAC). In her eyes, it is “unfortunate” if health care workers avoid members of sexual minorities. NAC key population official Tendai Mhaka said efforts were being made “to include sexual minorities” in HIV / AIDS programs. Gays and lesbians, however, say discrimination is common.
“Sexual minorities do not benefit from any treatment for HIV,” warns Sibongile Mtetwa of the Center for Research on Sexual Health and HIV / AIDS (CeShaar). “Health officials try to play it down in the media. But it is a fact that gays and lesbians find it difficult to access care at public health centers. If sexual minorities are not included in the fight against AIDS, there is a greater risk that they will continue to spread the disease.
Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.