Op-ed: What Malawi Shows Us About Fighting AIDS
BY Michelle Garcia
September 07 2012 2:17 PM ET
HIV is still one of the world’s most enduring epidemics. And while it is true that it impacts every population, country, and culture around the world, one group that consistently sees the highest rates of HIV infection globally is gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM).
Often, the epidemic is framed as a problem for gay men in developed countries like the United States and for a largely heterosexual population elsewhere, especially in the global south. The subject of MSM in lower-income and developing countries is avoided, if not ignored, whether due to homophobia or a simple lack of awareness of the reality: MSM across the globe are at far greater risk of HIV infection than their heterosexual counterparts.
Highlighting this issue is the situation in Malawi, where The Center for the Development of People operates. As in much of Africa, traditional cultural mores have deeply stigmatized homosexuality, driving MSM into the shadows and creating an atmosphere where unsafe sexual practices thrive. In 2010, Malawi made international headlines when a male couple was sentenced to 14 years in prison for holding a symbolic wedding.
But there are positive signs for the future. Malawi’s current president, Joyce Banda, is far more progressive on these issues than her predecessor and has vowed to repeal the nation’s ban on homosexuality. But Malawi is a religious nation, and traditional negative views about homosexuality continue to run deep. We know we have our work cut out for us and teaming with other organizations around the world has helped us not only inform our work but provide a much-needed-support system.
There will not be a solution to the global HIV epidemic unless high rates of HIV transmission in MSM are addressed. Unfortunately, in many countries, far too few conversations are taking place around that issue. I spoke about MSM issues in Malawi, and CEDEP’s work on a panel at last month’s International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by The Fenway Institute and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.