The head of the United Nations agency fighting HIV/AIDS has expressed concern over the recent conviction in Malawi of a gay couple and their sentencing to 14 years in jail, warning that it could undermine health-care efforts aimed at helping people living with the disease.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said on Tuesday that the conviction of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga earlier this month for “indecent practices between males” and “unnatural offences” had worrying health, societal, cultural and human rights ramifications.
“Evidence from several countries in Africa shows a significant number of new HIV infections occurring among sex workers, people who use drugs and men who have sex with men,” said Mr. Sidibé.
“Opening a societal dialogue on these sensitive and critical issues is the only way to guarantee access to health services and restore dignity to all.”
Mr. Sidibé and Michel Kazatchkine, the Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, made a joint official visit to Malawi this week to see first-hand the country’s efforts to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
They held talks in the capital, Lilongwe, with Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is also the current Chairperson of the African Union (AU), and raised the issue of the convictions of Mr. Monjeza and Mr. Chimbalanga.
Mr. Mutharika said he was confident that the cultural, religious and legal dimensions of the debate generated by the couple’s case would lead to a positive outcome, according to a press release issued by UNAIDS.
Mr. Sidibé and Professor Kazatchkine also discussed the broader Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline, with Mr. Mutharika. They commended the President and his country for their efforts to try to attain the MDGs and combat AIDS.