AT least 32.8% of Women who have Sex with other Women (WSW) and 28.% of Men who have Sex with other men (MSM) are HIV positive, according to statistics gathered by the Gays and Lesbians Zimbabwe (GALZ).
By Michael Gwarisa in Kadoma
Briefing a Meeting on Earmarked Taxes to fund Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) for Key Populations, GALZ Programmes Officer, Sylvester Nyamatendedza said accessing basic health needs for key members of their community was a challenge owing to a myriad of factors chief among them being the hatred and discrimination they get from the community and health workers at large.
“This research was done in all sites, Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and Chipinge. Harare and Bulawayo being the two major towns, Victoria Falls, there is lot that is happening in Vic Falls, we also did Chipinge, Chipinge being a rural setting because we needed some balance. The format that we used was a questionnaire one for Women having sex with women and another one for men having sex with men.
“So prevalence rate for the general data in that study was 32,8% for MSM which is more than double the national prevalence rate and that data was also aggregated in terms of sexual orientation looking at lesbian woman, bisexual women, Trans-gender men and for the general MSM community, prevalence rate was 23,5%,” said Nyamatendedza.
Nyamatendedza added that there was a shocking trend whereby there is increasing or higher HIV prevalence rate in older MSM and WSW owing to various factors chief among them being the fear to access health services for fear of stigma and also their penchant to protect their image.
The younger gays and lesbians according to the research have access to information tools like the Internet while older ones are deprived of these benefits owing to beliefs and societal expectations. He also said the LGBTQ community was vulnerable to other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) with genital warts being the most prevalent amongst MSM.
“Looking at issues around provision of SRHR services, to begin with with there is lack of If you ho to our health institutions you discover that there is lack of a comprehensive sexuality education. if you go the nurses and doctors they will tell they never learnt of anything to do with same sex sexualities.
“The approach by our health-care workers is also a cause for concern, they ask are you married, how many children do you have. We also have negative attitude by health care workers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Aids Network (ZAN) Regional Coordinator, Chiratidzo Mariwo said members of the gay community deserve every right to access sexual reproductive health services as well as basic health-care services at any health institution of their choice.
“As you can see, members of these groups just like any one of us should be granted access to health services and a lot of lobbying needs to be done at national level to ensure this can be achieved.”
Gay rights advocates in Zimbabwe say the laws in the country present something of a Catch-22 for the LGBT community. While it is not technically illegal to be gay in Zimbabwe, it is illegal to act on it.
Former President Robert Mugabe has been on the record castigating gays, calling them worse than Dogs and Pigs. The gay community however is banking on the Public Health Bill Consultations to be conducted soon to input their views and recommendations so as to be included in the new law.
The other section is also hoping the new leader President Emerson Mnangagwa will be more lenient towards gays and lesbians unlike his predecessor.
According to the final results of the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), HIV prevalence rate in the country declined from 18% to 14% over the past 10 years.