Tanzania suspends some HIV programmes for gay men, says health minister

by Kizito Makoye | @kizmakoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 31 October 2016 17:54 GMT

A patient collects medicine at the Kogelo Dispensary in the U.S. President Barack Obama's ancestral village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, west of Kenya's capital Nairobi, in this July 16, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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"This is essentially denial of services to people who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV"

By Kizito Makoye

DAR ES SALAAM, Oct 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tanzania has suspended community-based HIV/AIDS prevention programmes for gay men, the health minister said on Monday, in the latest crackdown on the high-risk group.

Ummy Mwalimu, Tanzania's minister for health said the government had received reports that some local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were promoting and normalising same-sex relationships as part of their HIV programmes.

Gay sex is illegal in Tanzania and punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

In September, the government threatened to ban groups that "promote" the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in its first public statement against the minority group.

"We have suspended MSM (men who have sex with men) community-based interventions pending (a) review," Mwalimu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The minister, however, said the government would continue to provide HIV/AIDS services to adolescent girls, drug users and other groups.

The East African country has a reputation for being more tolerant towards LGBT people than its neighbour Uganda but recent comments attacking the group have sparked fears and condemnation from activists.

There are 1.4 million people living with HIV in Tanzania, some 5 percent of the country's population, according to government statistics.

HIV prevalence among gay men is higher at 25 percent.

John Kashika, of Community Health Education Services & Advocacy NGO, said suspending HIV/AIDS programmes for some LGBT groups was a blow in the fight against the virus.

"This is essentially denial of services to people who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV, there's going to be a lot of implications," he said.

(Reporting by Kizito Makoye; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)