17 February 2017

Tanzania: Govt Halts HIV Services Over Homosexuality Claims

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(file photo).

Dar es Salaam — The government yesterday banned the provision of HIV/Aids services in at least 40 facilities that the authorities have accused of clandestinely promoting homosexuality.

Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu told reporters that health workers in the banned facilities, known as drop-in-centres, will now be shifted to public health facilities where they will be allowed to offer HIV/Aids services to those afflicted by the disease.

The country has about 4, 700 health facilities that offer HIV/Aids services, such as testing and counselling and according to the minister, these will continue operating--except those that were, according to government, found to be offering special care to gay men and lesbians.

She said that a recent investigation carried out by a special task force appointed by the government revealed that drop-in-centres, which are mainly funded by foreign agencies, were providing lubricants such as (K-Y jelly) which lured many youth to engage in homosexuality.

But, she noted, "I have ordered all relevant authorities under my docket to ensure that all people in this country are offered HIV/Aids services without discrimination. The law does not allow health workers to discriminate who should and who should not receive these services," she later told The Citizen in an interview. For those who might miss out HIV/Aids services at facilities in some parts of the country, the minister says, the government will intervene through special outreach services by deploying health workers from public facilities.

However, sources show that currently, about 3,000 health facilities have no capacity to provide HIV/Aids services. This means, there will be a shortage of centres for taking care of people living with HIV/Aids, as soon as the government's decision to ban the drop-in centres is implemented.Human rights activists have often been up in arms against the way gays are treated in Tanzania.

A report in 2013 by Human Rights Watch and the Wake Up and Step Forward Coalition in Tanzania (Waso), documented a wide range of abuses in the health sector, including denial of services, verbal harassment, and violations of confidentiality of members of at-risk groups such as men-having-sex with other men (MSM).

Tanzanian's HIV/Aids policy calls for efforts to reduce stigma against marginalized groups.

, and authorities have taken some measures to do so.

But the report identified dozens of cases in which health workers turned away sex workers, MSMs, and drug users from health facilities without offering services, or publicly humiliated them.

The Citizen sought to know the measures the government would take in case such groups would face the same problems, now as they are being forced to access services at public facilities.

According to Ms Mwalimu, the ministry of health will take deliberate measures to work with principal secretaries who have been notified to work on the matter in case such complaints arise in the due process of the implementation of the government's decision.

"If there will be such complaints, principal secretaries will advise the ministry of health on what steps to take. But their first role will be to ensure that all people get HIV/Aids services without discrimination," she told The Citizen.

She added that health workers were already undergoing training on how to deal with special groups of people, such as MSMs who are afflicted by HIV. "Special guidelines will also be offered on the matter before the end of February, 'she added.

Over 1.4 million people are living with HIV in Tanzania, some 5 percent of the country's population, according to the Tanzania Aids Control Commission (TACAIDS). But the HIV prevalence among gay men is higher, at 25 percent.

Since last year, the government has been at loggerheads with NGOs that offer healthcare to special groups. Some experts have cautioned that the closure of the programs would cause a higher rate of HIV infection among men who have sex with men, which includes many who also have sex with women, to whom they will continue to spread HIV.

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