Roadblocks hinder LGBTQ community’s access to HIV treatment

By Lynette Manzini

The country’s corona virus response has negatively impacted members of the LGBTQ community’s progress in accessing HIV treatment and prevention, it has emerged.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic Zimbabwe enforced a 21 day lockdown to stifle the spread of the virus. Since the first case was reported last March, the number of positive cases has increased to 23 and three deaths to date.

The lockdown has confined everyone within their homes and an approved five kilometre travelling distances to access essential services such as health facilities and grocery stores.

However, road blocks mounted by the security services to enforce the lockdown by prohibiting movement from residential suburbs, has hindered members of the LGBTQ community to access health facilities beyond their residential areas.

According to a transgender woman and coordinator of Trans and Intersex Zimbabwe who uses pseudo name Queen Bee Chihera, the LGBTI community has always avoided accessing HIV or STI treatment from facilities within their areas of residence.

“Majority of the LGBTQ community living with HIV collect their medication or ARV refills from health facilities in town or far away from their residential areas due to fear of discrimination and stigma.”

“They prefer were no one knows them and far away from their family and community.”

“Due to roadblocks mounted in suburbs, they are failing to pass through therefore falling to access the health institutions that protect their privacy,” Chihera said.

Public sector health facilities are said not to offer confidential consultations.

Chihera added that they will be have actual statistics of members who failed to get access to treatment will be available at the end of the week.

A report released by UNAIDS IN 2017 revealed that stigma and discrimination affront human rights and puts the lives of people living with HIV and key populations in danger. The report further elaborates that criminalization, marginalisation and stigmatization drive higher rates of infection and lowers uptake of service.

UNAIDS has in the past reported that HIV prevalence of the LGBTQ community is linked to risks associated with forced sex.

The LGBTI community has always been marginalised in many facets of society, particularly health care and especially prevention and treatment of HIV in several African countries inclusive of Zimbabwe.

Although government and Non Governmental Organisations in Zimbabwe have rolled out a LGBTQ targeted response, the gains could be reversed by the overlooked barriers to care during the lockdown or COVID19 response.

Chihera insisted that, “the government should not leave any one behind.” Further she added that if government was to extend the lockdown then all the possible hindrances need to be addressed.

Despite the circumstances Trans and Intersex Zimbabwe are pleased with the other mechanisms put in place by the ministry of health, CeSHHAR, PSI, Pangea Zimbabwe and the council clinics.

Transgender woman is an adult who was born male but whose gender is female.