December 3, 2018

As Tanzania's LGBT fear for their lives, HIV will thrive

A report by CNN outlines fear and danger since the announcement by a powerful Tanzanian politician that people suspected of being gay should be rounded up and arrested. The call by Paul Makonda, regional governor of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city at the end of October initiated a chain reaction in the country, forcing many into hiding. In November, a young trans woman fled her home in Dar es Salaam to go to Kenya's capital, Nairobi, with the help of Kenya-based nongovernmental organization Jinsiangu, which is supported by the International AIDS Alliance and its Rapid Response Fund.

Those unable to flee are instead pushed underground and into hiding, kept from entering the outside world -- which blocks their access to health services, such as those protecting against HIV/AIDS.

Being forced to be "invisible" due to "public antagonism" exposes people to sexual violence and abuse for which they are also not taken seriously by the police, said Christine Stegling, executive director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Growing homophobia will fuel the HIV epidemic, experts fear. "You have a whole part of the community not engaging in conversations about sex, sexuality and conversations around HIV," she said. "In the last couple of years, there's a really heightened hijacking of rhetoric against gay people as part of local politics, making life very hard for communities ... and to have HIV programs."

Global outcry in response to Mankonda's announcement has calmed the situation somewhat in Dar es Salaam and nationwide, but not entirely.