HIV Policies and Prejudice: Divide and Rule Rules
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HIV Policies and Prejudice: Divide and Rule Rules

Moshi : Tanzania | Jun 19, 2012 at 3:59 AM PDT
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Number 19 out of 25 'full democracies', according to the Economic Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, is the US. A HIV positive American was recently given a 25 year prison sentence and lifetime registration as a sex offender because he had protected sex with another man. He was said to have intentionally exposed the other man to HIV infection. The sentence has been suspended and the man given supervised probation for five years, but the lifetime registration as a sex offender still stands.

A gay man is stoned to death in Kenya (number 103, hybrid regime) because he is "caught having sex" with another man (do you believe people would do something like that in a place where passers by might spot them?). One of the men escaped but was seriously injured. How the various details about the men mentioned in the article could have become available is not terribly clear. And there is more than a hint that, even if male to male sex was involved, there were probably other factors. But claiming that two men were having sex should certainly be enough to get a crowd going.

The president of Uganda (number 96, hybrid regime), Yoweri Museveni, says he is going to kill the anti-homosexuality bill that has been doing the rounds for several years now. It's not exactly comforting to hear that someone who has held power for 25 years can decide whether bills should live or die. But now that so much hatred has been stirred up, one could question the president's ability to reverse all the damage that has been done. Not that thinking he has special powers distinguishes him from many senior political and religious leaders. But apparently Museveni believes that what happens in private is private. However, he feels it "should be illegal to induce children into sexual activity" of any kind, though that hardly distinguishes him either.

Church leaders are not completely in agreement with the president on the subject of homosexuality at the moment. The Catholic church seems pretty undecided about where its work should be focused right now, even at number 19. American nuns have been taken to task for "focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage". The taking to task emanates from Rome, Italy (number 31, flawed democracy), issued by one Joe 'The Pope' Ratzinger, from Germany (number 14, full democracy).

So perhaps the president and the church have more in common when it comes to the subordinate role of women. An estimated 100 Ugandan women a week die giving birth. Activists are demanding that this be recognized as a violation of women's rights. But it is not just trained health personnel, adequate facilities, supplies and equipment that are lacking. There is also said to be a lack of compassion for the women and babies who die, and even for the families involved. It is pointed out that there appears to be little commitment, as there is a lot of money available for fighter jets, military hardware and other things that should not take priority over health.

So what about the efficacy of condoms or 'safe sex' in general? What about the wisdom of knowing your HIV status and behaving accordingly? What about being honest and open, or even being cautious and private where that's more appropriate? What about the individual responsibility of both parties having consensual sex, where one happens to be HIV positive? Aside from appearing a lot more compassionate than issuing pink triangles to be sewn on to jackets, how much confidence should we have in antiretroviral programs that appear to drive a wedge between those who are 'contaminated' and those who need to be 'protected'? Are HIV policies inadvertently undermining human rights, or is everything actually going to plan?

[For more about non-sexual HIV transmission and mass male circumcision, see the Don't Get Stuck With HIV site.]

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Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni shows the mark on his thumb after voting
Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni shows the mark on his thumb after voting
Simon Collery is based in Arusha, Arusha, Tanzania, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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