The Zimbabwean permanent secretary for health and child care, Gerald Gwinji, said the proposed plan to establish the drop-in centres for homosexual men was in its planning stages. The National Aids Council (NAC), which is advocating for the establishments of these centres in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Kwekwe, will call them “Men’s Health Centres”. The NAC said it has noted that unprotected homosexual sex, especially among men— together with unprotected heterosexual sex — was among the main transmission routes for HIV.
“We are trying to help this minority community so that it can access medical services, after realising that they have been discriminated against. This is part of our programme in the fight against the spread of HIV and Aids, as we go towards having zero HIV infections. Here, they will be able to discuss their health-related issues, access peer education and also collect condoms, among other issues that affect them daily,” Amon Mpofu, the NAC’s monitoring and evaluation director, told journalists at a media editors’ workshop in Kadoma.
According to the UNICEF website, Zimbabwe has a prevalence rate of 13.7% among adults, making it one of the five countries hardest hit by HIV and Aids globally. Avert.org gives insight into the reasons for this, stating that “the HIV epidemic in Zimbabwe is generalised and is largely driven by unprotected heterosexual sex. Women are disproportionately affected, particularly adolescent girls and young women. However, there are growing epidemics among key populations such as sex workers and men, who have sex with men who are at higher risk of HIV.”
In fact, due to the illegal nature of sex work and homosexuality in Zimbabwe, these groups have not been included in the country’s national HIV and Aids strategic plan, which presents huge barriers for sex workers and men who have sex with men to access HIV services. This ultimately hampers any reduction of Aids-related illnesses.
Chester Samba, the director of Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ), said they are working with the NAC on the Men’s Health Centres pilot project. “The drop-in centres will provide a space for the community to access services in a nondiscriminatory environment,” Samba said.
Gay health, not gay civil rights
Despite this development, presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Daily News that same-sex marriages remained banned in Zimbabwe, and that this would not change any time soon.
In fact, when asked during a recent interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos whether his country might change its stance on sexual minorities, Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa (who has less radical views than his predecessor) replied, “In our Constitution, it is banned – and it is my duty to obey my constitution.” He then went on to say that “those people who want it [decriminalisation] are the people who should canvass for it.”
His response makes it clear that this move is more about the country’s health goals than in giving the gay community civil rights. It may be some time yet before same-sex unions will be decriminalised in this southern African country.