Dignitas International (DI), an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) fighting against HIV and Aids has spoken of the need for the nation to change its mindset and accept the reality that homosexuality exists in the country.
Speaking in Mulanje on Wednesday during a medical and research dissemination workshop, key population officer for the NGO George Mulewa said continued denial, stigma and discrimination directed to people with different sexual orientation remains a challenge in the fight against HIV and Aids.
Mulewa said HIV transmission among the key population which include men having Sex with men (MSM), sex workers, lesbian, prisoners, fishermen and truck drivers remains high in the country.
“They are failing to come out in the open to claim their right to health services because they are being mocked in hospitals and not accepted in society because what they do is said not to be in conformity with what the society believe in.
Most clients of sex workers refuse to use condoms and many of those indulging in homosexuality believe they cannot contact HIV in such kind of relationships,” he explained.
Describing the key population as a bridge to the general population Mulewa said accepting them and understanding who they are and how they work will help the nation target them with well coordinated programmes and interventions.
He said for example, since it started a key population program in January 2017,
in the four districts of Mulanje, Phalombe, Machinga and Zomba, Dignitas International has registered about 255 men who have sex with fellow men out of which 156 are HIV positive.
HIV prevalence among sex workers is at 62.7 percent worldwide and Malawian national clients of sex workers’ HIV prevalence (aged 15-49) is at 71 percent.
“These figures speak volume of how the reality of the issue is. For us we meet them in strategic places during the night to prevent them from being harmed or ridiculed.
In trying to integrate in society, some force themselves into heterosexual marriages but continue to enjoy sex with their homosexual clients outside their marriages, thereby having multiple sexual partners,” said Mulewa.
Commenting on the matter, senior nutrition HIV/Aids officer for Mulanje Charles Lomoni said as a district they are alarmed with the increased cases of HIV in the district.
According to the 2016/2017 Malawi Demographic Health Survey, Mulanje has an HIV prevalence rate of 20.6 percent, the highest in the country.
“We just replaced Thyolo from position one and this is sad. Previously we were at 17 percent. It is my plea that many organisations come forward to help us fight this disease,” he said.
Lomoni attributed the increase to the key population describing them as fueling agents of HIV to the larger population.
“These people (bisexuals) live among us, only that they live in hiding and we do not know them. As for sex workers, we all know they have clients some of them being those in the forefront in condemning them.
If we continue discriminating them they will not move out of their cocoon to seek medical attention and in that way it will be difficult for the nation to attain the 90:90:90 targets,” said Lomoni.
For her part, Senior Chief Chikumbu of the district said traditionally it is difficult to accept homosexuals as it is regarded as an abomination among the society.
She said for her part she and her fellow traditional leaders have always encouraged their subjects to get tested for HIV and access antiretroviral therapy (ART) services when tested positive.
“I think we need to change the approach in such a way that instead of encouraging them to continue with the wild behaviours, they must be given psychosocial support so that they change and integrate well in the society,” she said.