Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How gay Zimbabweans are fighting HIV

"You're the first caller I've had for a few days now," Samuel Matsikure tells me from the GALZ health centre in Harare. The telephone lines in the city are working again after a 24-hour break in service, but despite the continuing poor line, Matsikure speaks in a bright, calm tone that belies his circumstances. "People are struggling with transport costs and things being so expensive, so they can't come and see us." He's talking about some of the one in five Zimbabweans that are living with HIV-Aids and of those who seek to avoid infection. In a country with few jobs, scarce food and inflation upwards of 100,000 percent, even the cost of a bus ride can be a barrier to seeking help.

Economics, however, is not the only obstacle to seeking help for HIV-Aids in Zimbabwe. Despite an estimated 1.8 million people in the country living with HIV-Aids, stigma remains not only a significant obstacle to accessing treatment, but also a powerful force for dividing families and propagating conflict within communities. For the community served by Matsikure and his team at GALZ, however, stigma has always run deep. When Robert Mugabe threatened legal action against "sexual perverts" that he considered "lower than cats and dogs" in 1995, he was talking about GALZ's community – the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

Read the rest of this article in The Guardian (UK).

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