- Study finds Malawi has nearly 40 000 gays
- Capital Hill requests K180m for their HIV intervention
The population of homosexuals in Malawi has now hit nearly 40 000, forcing the Malawi Government to request resources for HIV and Aids interventions targeting this controversial minority group, The Nation has learnt.
Malawi has asked for $388 888 (about K180 million) from The Global Fund for Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV and Aids to support activities such as testing, counselling and treatment, condoms and prevention of risky behaviour programmes for the 38 734-strong Malawian homosexual population.
This is contrary to government’s position on homosexuality, which is illegal in Malawi punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment, according to the Penal Code whose offences include “unnatural acts” and “buggery”.
Concept notes on HIV and TB programming, which the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) submitted to The Global Fund, state that Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) make up 1.84 percent of the male population in Malawi.
“A seven-site MSM HIV prevalence, socio-behavioural and population size estimation study released at the end of 2014 estimates MSM make up about 1.84 percent of the overall male population aged 20 to 39 years in Malawi or about 38 734 individuals,” states the concept note requesting funding for HIV programmes for 2015 to 2017.
The team stated that the study had shown that MSM could be reached with community level services such as targeted risk education, distribution of condoms and lubricants and testing and counselling, but also referrals to MSM-friendly hospitals.
So far, only Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) has been able to carry out these programmes, but only targeting 1 400 people against the larger MSM population that has an HIV and Aids prevalence rate of around 21.4 percent, nearly thrice the eight percent for the general population.
Cedep executive director Gift Trapence said in an interview yesterday that many people have always wanted to know the number of MSM in the country and the study conducted by five institutions and the United Nations agencies would give a clear picture.
The study was carried out in urban centres of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, lakeshore districts of Mangochi and Nkhata Bay as well as agricultural districts of Chikwawa and Mulanje.
However, dissemination of the results will only take place in March this year.
Trapence said with the strides made in policy reforms, MSM and female sex workers would be reached with HIV prevention services, but there is need to translate policy into action.
“This can only happen if our policies and laws are harmonised to make it easier for these population to access services. Having policies is something else, translating that into action will depend on government commitment in the implementation,” he said.
On concerns that the existence of criminal laws would continue to prevent MSM from accessing services for fear of being prosecuted, Trapence said it would remain difficult to reach these people in a criminalised environment; hence, the barriers should be addressed first.
The new National Strategic Plan for HIV and TB response (2015-2020) has recognised MSM as a key population in HIV epidemics based on the increased risk of HIV transmission from unprotected anal intercourse.
But with the money which government has requested from Global Fund, only about three percent of the population will be reached, but could increase to 19 percent with support from donors.
Among the donors who have committed to supply condoms and lubricants for homosexuals are the United States government through the Presidential Emergency Plan for HIV and Aids Relief (Pepfar), about $2.1 million per year in five districts where there are many MSM.
Minister of Health Jean Kalilani refused to comment on the issue, saying the proposal was made by the CCM team.
In Malawi, homosexuality is outlawed and the first openly-gay couple of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza was in 2010 given the maximum sentence of 14 years each. They held a public traditional engagement in December 2009.