Forced and Cover Up Marriages Driving HIV Infections In Zimbabwe’s LGBTIQ Community

THE lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community in Zimbabwe remains one of the hardest hit with new HIV infections due to a myriad of factors chief among them being arranged/forced marriages with heterosexual individuals, homophobia initiated rape and cover up marriages amongst a host of other factors.

By Michael Gwarisa

Currently there is little information available on LGBTIQ and HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe since the area is still shunned a lot due to institutionalized and societal homophobia, lack of understanding of human sexuality and sexual health amongst of a host of other factors. According to a 2013 SADC Study, the national HIV prevalence among the women who have sex with other women and LBQ women is 32.6%.

In an interview with HealthTimes, GALZ Programme Lead: Capacity Building and Policy Advocacy, Sylvester Nyamatendedza said there was heavy HIV  burden among key populations and vulnerable groups where Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and LGBTIQ people fall under.

There is  little local evidence that’s there shows that the HIV burden is high amongst the LBGTIQ. The latest statistics that are available on a study that was done in Harare and Bulawayo shows that the prevalence rate of HIV in MSM is at 31% . You realize this is not a national study because it was done in Harare and Bulawayo but I think if we could do a national study it would be more factual or could be data that is representative of the whole nation, said Munyaradzi.

He however added that most LGBTIQ people end up getting into forced marriages, cover up marriages with heterosexual persons or at times get raped as a way of forcing them to change their sexuality and this to some extent exposes them to the risk of new HIV infections.

“For MSM and Women who have Sex with other Women (WSW), there has been a cry over the  heteronormative approach to HIV programming. You realize there is no comprehensive service delivery. By Heteronormative I mean we still believe in the man and woman kind of relations only so there is little knowledge available for male to male sexual conduct which is really risky. A study that was done by ANOVA in South Africa shows that the HIV risk is 19 times higher between Men to Men sex rather than Men to Women.

“You realise that this information is not easily and readily available especially to MSM who are older, MSM in rural communities, MSM who are not technologically  savvy. You also realise that MSM tend to have relations with heterosexual women for either cover up, peer pressure or even forced marriages. For WSW, part of the reason we have high prevalence rate in this group is because our lesbians and because of patriarchy, they get into relations with men or rather arranged marriages. They are also raped, what we now call Homophobia initiated rape among other reasons.”

He added that the LGBTIQ community is not a homogenous group hence the need to have to have research specific to the Transgender community and Intersex community.

Meanwhile, uptake of HIV prevention measures such as such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxes (PrEP), is still very low in the LGBTIQ community especially the MSM. Sylvester said the low uptake of PrEP was MSM was largely due to PrEP related stigma. He also said there is need to revisit the curriculum of healthcare workers so to encompass LGTIQ healthcare needs.

“Our healthcare system rather is not ready. The efforts done by government are not moving at a pace we would want them to move. For example, LGBTIQ is not part of the nurses curriculum and it is not part of the doctors curriculum in training so you realise that because our healthcare workers are only trained or capacitated when they are in service, the training they are receiving is mostly from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the training cannot reach to each and every healthcare worker. If the Nurses and Doctors curriculum would include MSM and WSW, then definitely attitudes of healthcare workers would improve in the healthcare sector.”

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