Working in Coalition to Fight Stigma in the Zimbabwean Health Sector

by Mohan D. Sundararaj, MBBS, MPH Director of Public Health Programs

Last month, MPact worked in close coalition with the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) and Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) to organize a multi-day training workshop for 25 healthcare provider champions in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The workshop, funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, was designed to inspire front line nurses, counselors, pharmacists, program managers, nursing administrators and peer educators from Bulawayo to become agents of change in addressing stigma and discrimination against gay and bisexual men in their respective clinical settings.

The four-day intensive workshop was the culmination of a 20-month long project led by SRC and MPact to reduce stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings across Bulawayo with several positive results. One of these results is modeling the engagement of advocacy champions within the health sector with training and service monitoring tools to ultimately improve service access and quality for gay and bisexual men through spirited action carried out by healthcare providers themselves. The workshop held last month helped refresh the knowledge of previously trained champions but more importantly, expanded the opportunity to a larger number of healthcare workers linked to SRC.

With the aim of changing levels of knowledge, attitude and skills, the workshop stitched together both clinical and advocacy topics seamlessly. Through the use of a range of purposefully selected facilitation techniques, the training workshop provided a broad overview of the unique sexual heath needs of gay and bisexual men and in-depth skills on clinical topics prioritized by the participants. This included articulating various facility-specific barriers and facilitators to health access for gay and bisexual men in Bulawayo and strategies for creating a friendlier setting, including clinical sexual history taking.  The workshop also prioritized technical discussions focused on the needs of adolescent and young gay and bisexual individuals, bringing additional lenses to better address the needs of this often left-out age group. The training ended with a day-long, skills-building session on advocacy capacity building, inspiring each participant to articulate a set of action steps for envisioning and creating change at their local clinic or hospital.

MPact wishes to acknowledge the incredible contributions made by all the participants and the excellent facilitation led by Tadios Munyimani (GALZ), Deloune Matongo (GALZ), Mojalifa Mokoele (SRC) and Nqobile Ndhlovu (SRC).