Vienna 2010: Protection of MSM – is it really possible?

Published: July 22, 2010

It is forbidden to talk about protection of men who have sex with men (MSM) above all bring it in the public domain, unless one is prepared to be beaten and called names. For Zambia a Christian nation, it is believed and viewed that people are supposed to live their lives like that of Jesus Christ, forsaking evil and embracing good at all time. This is to say that people are not supposed to be engaged in activities such as MSM or lesbianism. Bringing such a topic of protection of MSM and gays to Zambia would be suicidal to the initiator. One would be condemned to death. Many would rather the relationshiops happen in the dark rather than in the open to corrupt people‘s good morals.

No one championed the legalisation of homosexuality in Zambia because the practice is unchristian and alien to the nation. Homosexuality raised a serious debate among the Zambian just this year, 2010 conclusion of the Constitution Review Commission, all members refused to accept any clause that would support and protect the rights of gay people in the country. Works and Supply Minister Mike Mulongoti said the government could not embrace or support gay rights because of the country’s declaration as Christian nation.

“Zambia is declared a Christian nation and anything that is unChristian and alien to our society is deemed to be an abomination,” Mr. Mulongoti said.

People that support the protection of gay people are strongly condemned people in Zambia. Anyone supporting anything that was unChristian was so outrageous that no Zambian would want to associate with such a person. However no matter how one looks at the issue of men having sex with men, the practice is happening in Zambia, Christian as it may be called, in the dark, yet, nothing is and will happen to change what is on the ground.

Health Minister Kapembwa Simabo once said Zambia being a Christian nation should live according to the Biblical setting, not otherwise. He acknowledged gay practice was growing in Zambia but that it will never be recognised as a legal practice, despite it fuelling the spread of HIV and AIDS. The minister said it was important to teach people about HIV and AIDS in order to help reduce the further spread of the disease.

“The fight against HIV and AIDS requires all groups at risks to be involved and reached,” he said.

One wonders if MSM, gays and lesbians will really be engaged to join the fight against HIV AIDS in a Christian nation like Zambia. As this still remains a mystery, global health leaders called for the protection of the rights of MSM and other minority groups.

The 2010 AIDS Conference in Vienna explored the issue of MSM and how this group of people can be reached. Global health leaders spoke out on the interconnected crises of HIV and discrimination among gays. Leading figures in the global AIDS response meeting at the AIDS conference focused on rapidly increasing rates of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM).

Co-director of AIDS Free World Stephen Lewis said there is need to promote broad access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for MSM worldwide including Zambia, a Christina nation. It was agreed that strategies to reverse the stigma, discrimination, human rights abuses and lack of targeted services that are leading to rapidly increasing HIV infection rates among MSM should be in place.

The impact of the epidemic on MSM worldwide was documented and analyzed as part of a highly successful day-long symposium, "BE HEARD," hosted by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV.

“HIV among MSM is no longer viewed as either a small or isolated problem, but rather as a major driver of the global epidemic," said Elly Katabira, President-elect of the International AIDS Society. "MSM in low- and middle-income countries are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population, yet only one in five has access to the HIV prevention, care and treatment services they need.”

Mr Katabira said discrimination against MSM is not limited to any one area of the world, and the failure to respect the human rights of MSM and to integrate MSM communities into evidence-based HIV prevention efforts is a driver of the epidemic in every global region. He said in many parts of the world, MSM are the group most impacted by HIV. Even where the epidemic is predominantly heterosexual, however, MSM bear a large but often overlooked share of the HIV burden.

The recently unveiled Strategic Plan of the IAS calls for the scale up HIV prevention for men who have sex with men, removal of laws criminalising homosexuality and advocacy to ensure that governments and bodies such as National AIDS Commissions fund and provide HIV-related services for MSM.

"When MSM are involved in AIDS responses, HIV rates decline," said George Ayala, Executive Officer of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF). "When MSM are ignored or stigmatised, HIV transmission in MSM communities increases. Dr respecting the human rights of MSM is not only the right and just thing to do – it is also an essential piece of good public health policy that can significantly reduce the size and impact of this epidemic.

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