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Dousing discrimination fire in health care

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PHIRI— Health issues affect all

Who said these words? “We can either learn to live together like brothers or perish together as fools.”

Martin Luther King Junior, of course.

Despite Martin Luther King Junior being an American, his words ring true today; hence, these are the words the organisation Art and Global Health Centre Africa (AGHCA) highlights in promoting Umunthu programme.

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The programme is translating Umunthu (humanity) from a philosophy to a practical way of life, especially in the delivery of health services.

“Discrimination is at different levels, personal or structural, but this project is targeting frontline health workers’ attitude towards people who are discriminated. We believe that, if individuals can understand the implication of discrimination, this will, in the long run, positively affect change,” says Umunthu Programme’s Manager, Rodger Kumalire Phiri.

He says some of those discriminated against in Malawi are sexual minorities.

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A study which Centre for the Development of People, the College of Medicine [University of Malawi], and Johns Hopkins University released in 2015 indicates that HIV infections remain undiagnosed in most Men who have Sex with fellow men.

The study, titled ‘HIV prevalence and Social behavioral characteristics among MSM in Seven Sites of Malawi’, reveals that there is low knowledge of HIV risk and prevention among sexual minorities.

“Untreated health problems affect the whole society. For example, the United Nations Aids Gap Report of 2014 indicates that, despite necessary measures being put in place, the HIV prevalence rate is stuck at 8 percent worldwide. We have to learn from South Africa, where it was observed that discrimination against poor people in accessing health care resulted in the country registering drug resistant TB [tuberculosis],” he says.

In 2013, there were over 10,000 people on multi-drug resistant TB medication.

The cost per patient was estimated at $26,392, and 103 times higher than drug sensitive TB ($257.)

“Due to discrimination, poor people in South Africa opted to seek medical attention from sangomas [witchdoctors] and, as a result, the TB bacteria developed resistance which killed so many people,” Phiri says.

As legal expert at Umunthu Programme, Joel Botha, puts it, the onus is on the government to clear the mist on the laws regarding indecent acts.

“There have been trends where the Minister of Justice [Samuel Tembenu] declared the moratorium on the laws, and then High Court judge Dingiswayo Madise came up with a ruling stating that he did not recognise the moratorium. So, we are still in a fix,” Botha says.

Tembenu, on December 18 2015, released a statement pronouncing suspension of all anti-homosexual laws.

But this did not please Young Pastors Coalition of Malawi who, in February 2016, successfully sought an injunction at Mzuzu High Court in Mzuzu.

Madise granted the group an injunction on February 9 2016, an injunction he sustained on May 12.

“…until a final determination can be made as to the constitutionality of the criminal law, I am of the view that a panel of not less than three judges will be able to adjudicate on all the issues that have been raised in the matter,” reads part of the ruling.

Meanwhile, medical workers can only do their best by treating all and sundry without regard to their status in society.

This is the message from nurse and midwife technician at Bethesda Medical Centre in Luchenza, Patrick Muobo

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