Joomun Shah Irfan Mohammad of YQA – Out With It 2018

Joomun Shah Irfan Mohammad of the Young Queer Alliance in Mauritius has proposed a solution that provides and opportunity for peer-to-peer education about sexual health via a 33 piece deck of cards.

Irfan and YQA are one of twelve teams led by youth advocates from around the world who will join us for Out With It: Community Solutions for the Sexual Health and Rights of Young Gay and Bisexual Men. These twelve teams will have the chance to present and workshop their solutions at our event in Amsterdam on July 22nd, 2018. Help support this event by donating here:

MPAct: Tell us a little about yourself!

Irfan: Hi there. I am Irfan from Mauritius, an Island country in the middle of the Indian Ocean, some 4 hours flight east of South Africa. I live in the northern coastal region where I get to enjoy some cool time biking to the beach, hiking the caves and enjoy a variety of delicious food with my homies. While being a very extrovert person, I still had a very close relationship with my parents and siblings (brown family style) and I offer much importance to work life balance. My best vacation trip would be a two weeks get away and some quite place to recharge as it takes a lot of energy to be efficient and productive in today’s world. While am not on vacations, I enjoy keeping myself busy with work, activism and studies. Being a 23 years old young man, I already started building up my career as a nurse / social worker and my dream position would be an Aids Nurse (Specialised) and ultimately a nurse manager. I prefer and work best in a very positive environments but that does not mean that I cannot achieve in a stressful one. One of my most liked quote:  “Do not treat others in a way that you would not want others to treat you”

M: How did you get involved in this project?

I: From a very young age, I was exposed to HIV-prevention through trainings at the school and youth centers and I felt the need to be empowered and to empower others on HIV and LGBTQI issues. In 2015, I was employed as Coordinating Officer at YQA, in charge of the Global Funds against Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFTMA). Being passionate about health matters in general, I opted for a carrier change in 2016 as Trainee Nurse, now employed by Ministry of Health and Quality of Life, pursuing a National Diploma in nursing in house. I am currently serving at the YQA as part-time Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and volunteer at YQA. Furthermore, I am also a part-time Management student at the University of Technology of Mauritius

The GFATM was a program involving peer education and outreach approach to provide HIV prevention services alongside condoms and lubricants. I participated in a focus group during a session during the Strategic Planning workshop at the YQA to develop a solution to facilitate peer-to-peer interventions. It was then that the idea of having fun approach to sensitization emerged. Through different consultations, we, eventually, came up with our 33 deck of cards for sensitization.

M: Tell us more about the challenge your solution aims to address.

I: HIV prevalence in Mauritius is around 1% making the epidemic a concentrated one among Gay and Bisexual men, Female sex workers and injecting drug users. Among Gay and Bisexual Men, the HIV prevalence is around 20%, with the age of sexual debut being 16 years old compared to 17 for the general population. Only 2.5% of Gay and Bisexual men who are HIV positive are aware of their status.

Laws in the country do not expressly prohibit or condemn the identity of being gay or bisexual, but however, lack of protection from violence, criminalization of sodomy, lack of laws for civil partnership and/or marriage equality, lack of enforcement of laws against those engaged in homophobia and transphobia – despite of employment and equal opportunities laws- make it such that Gay and Bisexual men are unduly disadvantaged and discriminated against.

The health status couple with failing legal considerations, as well as lack of community health systems combine to having a projected HIV incidence of 36% among gay and bisexual men alone.  The YQA, with two and a half years of experience working with young LGBT (around 800 yearly) enabled us to identify the shortcomings in the usual HIV medical-centered prevention strategies and to broaden our horizons including rights awareness, social support and counseling.

The fundamental objective of the playing cards is to make field interventions more enjoyable and interactive and at the same time, foster correct and consistent HIV prevention information and the social aspect of LGBT+ persons in Mauritius. It should be noted that the playing cards are portable, more informative, user-friendly and discrete making it socially acceptable and tolerated.

M: What are you most looking forward to during “Out With It”?

I: So far, after being selected as finalists for the “Out with it” challenge, we have been brainstorming as to develop our project further so that it can be used as a counseling material, including towards other stakeholders such as nurses, law enforces, health practitioners, parents, and community leaders, so as to induce behavioral change in them, in understanding LGBT people as more than just recipients of GFATM or as recipients of funding or beneficiaries, but as people and human beings, having human needs and living through human challenges.

I wish to take back what I have learned to members at the YQA, volunteers, peer outreach and partner organizations to share the good practices and innovations in dealing with HIV and youth sexuality so as to enable young people being empowered. Furthermore, I intend to write a narrative of my experiences on this journey to make the word go out among our broader constituents on the YQA’s facebook page and website.

“Out with it” can help in turning the idea into a reality already by guiding us in improving our solution, as well as providing for referrals and empowerment to organizations and institutions which would be keen to support the initiative.

The Out With It Pre-Meeting and Reception is a day-long interactive youth-led event centered around generating and refining innovative, community-led solutions for the sexual health and rights of young gay and bisexual men.

Join us on July 22nd, 2018 at the KIT Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Click here to learn more.