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Malawi government plays double standards on gays

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President Peter Mutharika will on Wednesday next week append his signature to a contract between his government and the Global Fund signalling provision of a grant on projects that will run from this year to 2017.

Malawi News has learnt that the President’s act will be a total display of double standards by the government which is not ready to embrace homosexuality in the country but has included a component in its financial proposal to the Global Fund to be used to help men who have sex with men (MSM).

Victor Chayamba, executive secretary at the Malawi Global Fund Coordinating Committee Secretariat, confirmed that the executive director for Global Fund would travel to Malawi for a grant signing ceremony next week on the appointed day.

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“The ceremony is being planned and will involve His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Malawi,” he said.

A proposal by Government of Malawi which Malawi News has seen titled ‘Investing for impact against tuberculosis and HIV’ to run between July 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017 requires US$242,022 of the allocated funding to be invested in the first two years.

This money will be used in providing a standardised comprehensive prevention package for MSM to reduce risky behaviour, create demand for and provide condoms and lubricants to be provided by United States Government, regular HTC and STI management.

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The resources will also be used to procure qualified and MSM-friendly clinical services, while reducing stigma and discrimination in health care and community settings in non-USG/Pepfar key population priority districts.

The proposals also indicate that Pepfar is providing US$2.15 million annually for key population activities in five high MSM concentration districts.

“Training and small stipends for peer educators and clinic navigators/expert clients as well as supported referrals to health facilities for confirmatory HIV testing, STI management, TB screening, and care assessment for HIV+ clients will be covered within allocation,” the proposal states.

It also indicates that the allocated amount of US$338,888 is requested to expand HTC (including mobile HTC), condom support activities and community sensitisation and focus groups, specifically targeting MSM, and reach all MSM targeted in the final six months of the Concept Note (July – December 2017).

“Development of MSM-targeted HIV prevention information and materials will be supported through USG/ Pepfar (as will provision of lubricant) while production of the materials for use by peer educators in Concept Note-supported geographic areas will be covered by within allocation Concept Note resources,” it says.

The proposal also states that as described elsewhere, public sector community-based HTC campaigns, PITC and STI management reaching MSM would be supported under the General Population Prevention module. Care and treatment for HIV-positive MSM would be provided through the Treatment and Care module. MSM-related clinical and sensitisation training for health care workers will be supported through the General Population Prevention and CSS modules. Police and community sensitisation, advocacy for human rights, gender and legal reform and legal assistance to facilitate MSM prevention will be covered under the CSS module.

The proposal is set to target 7,000 MSM in the first year including 1037 with Concept Note resources), increasing by 5-10 percent per year as systems and capacity are developed, given national MSM-focused programming is new in Malawi and there is only one local NGO providing services to MSM.

“MSM will be targeted in areas where they have been identified in the highest concentrations not already reached through other efforts, primarily urban areas, some tourist areas and lakeside communities, including the seven MSM study sites,” the proposal states.

It, however concedes that current statistics for men who have sex with men in Malawi suggest they are not a major driver of the overall HIV epidemic, though they are considered a key population because of structural barriers they face in accessing information and services due to marginalisation and criminalisation, and high rates of risky behaviour and misconceptions among recently surveyed MSM that facilitate transmission of HIV and other STIs.

“The Malawi Penal Code criminalises same-sex relationships and earnings from prostitution and brothel keeping, leading to arbitrary arrests and detention of people thought to engage in MSM or sex work,” it observes.

It also states that the police actions against these key populations are commonly alleged and treated with impunity and this impedes access to HV-related information and services.

“A recent report documented 76 cases of human rights violations of sexual minorities, mostly MSM, including police beatings and humiliation, arbitrary arrest, and denial of health services that took place in 2013 in four districts across the country,” it says.

“In Malawi, there is limited data on MSM population sizes, population in need, and intervention coverage and gaps, especially for older MSM,” it adds.

It further states that a seven-site MSM HIV prevalence, socio-behavioural and population size estimation study released at the end of 2014 estimates that MSM make up about 1.84 percent of the overall male population aged 20-39 years in Malawi, or about 38,734 individuals.

This is consistent with other estimates from African countries, the proposal states, where there is little information currently on transgendered people (TG) in Malawi and their numbers are thought to be very low.

Government spokesperson and Minister of Information, Tourism and Civic Education, Jappie Mhango referred the matter to the Ministry of Health saying this would be the right entity to comment.

“It’s a fact as a country we are not ready to embrace same sex marriage because it’s uncultured. Because this is the more reason the President even suggested a referendum so that Malawians can indeed speak for themselves,” said Mhango who agreed that this is a national issue that requires his input but he might not be too competent to comment on that.

“People do not want to hear anything about that, but the line ministry can be specific on why they have made such a submission against the national views against same sex marriage,” said Mhango.

Both the Minister of Health and principal secretary were not available to comment.

Malawi Government put its foot down at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 30th Session in Geneva last month when it rejected the acceptance of same sex relationships.

Despite this stand, the council adopted Malawi’s Universal Periodic Review report on its human rights.

Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice, Janet Banda, who addressed the council, said the issue of same sex relationships has not received popular support in the country.

“This is an area that is still under discussions… Government is encouraging free debate and has also invited through a press briefing civil society to work with government to educate the rural masses especially the grassroots on the importance of sexual minority rights so that we generate or cultivate a culture of acceptance in the country,” explained Banda.

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