A National Aids Council of Zimbabwe consultant hired by the government body to advise on how to combat the devastatingly high HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country had some rather stark suggestions it was revealed last week: stop criminalizing homosexuality and prostitution.
A consultant hired by the National Aids Council (NAC) to review Zimbabwe’s response to the Aids pandemic has recommended a review of the Sexual Offences Act to deal with “homosexuality and prostitution in a pragmatic way.”
The law in its present form criminalises homosexuality and prostitution.
But the study … encourages Zimbabweans to be open-minded about homosexuality and other sexual practices if the pandemic, killing thousands of people every week, is to be brought under control.
The National Aids Council consultant contends that such vehement criminalization in the predominantly Evangelical Christian nation is driving gay people underground. The same with prostitution. This increases high-risk behaviors and contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS in a nation that desperately needs to stem rampaging infection rates.
The consultant, who has not been named for what have been described as “professional” reasons, also recommended a change to Zimbabwe’s family planning laws that make accessing contraception difficult.
The document calls for the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council Act to be revised so that contraceptives could be made available in schools, hotels, night clubs and beer halls.
The “condoms in schools” meme has already been used to stir up chatter about the consultation. Calls to decriminalize homosexuality are tipped to produce similar or even more vocal reactions; particularly telling is that NAC has already said it does not support everything in the report and that it has not yet formulated which recommendations it would like to carry forward.
NAC said the consultant was hired to review all the Acts, declarations and protocols that deal with the fight against HIV and Aids.
The council says it is not actively advocating for the recommendations, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but would encourage debate around the issues.
Tapuwa Magure, the NAC CEO said the organisation was yet to consider the recommendations and come up of with a position, especially on the controversial issues such as placing condoms in schools and homosexuality.
“We hired a consultant who made those recommendations but we have not yet sat down to go through them as an organisation so we currently do not have a position regarding them,” he said.
“We however believe that all populations, be it the disabled or prisoners, should have access to interventions and as a country, we are doing well in this regard.
“It was a bit premature to present those recommendations to the media but we will be having a position in due course.”
The document also calls for a revision of the national framework being used to combat HIV/AIDS so as to bring it in line with the most recent research in prevention methods and strategies.
It is estimated that at least 1 in 10 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, marking Zimbabwe as having one of the highest infection rates in the world. Political corruption and resulting human rights abuses have been blamed for poor response rates, with the government unprepared to acknowledge the true extent of the problem. You can read more about HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe here.
One might wonder how progress can be made in light of this consultation if officials are, again, so keen to disregard those findings and prevention methods that do not adhere to their cultural view of what is morally acceptable. HIV/AIDS gives little regard for such considerations. Pragmatism, here, may save lives, but only if officials will let it.
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