Monday, August 8, 2011

Government misses at African Aids meet (originally published in The Sunday Times newspaper)

Secretary for Nutrition, HIV and Aids, Dr Mary Shawa was not among the high profile delegates expected to attend an Africa Dialogue of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law which was held in Pretoria, South Africa on August 3 and 4.

The absence of Malawi government officials was evident during a Live Webcast of the Africa Regional Dialogue the Sunday Times monitored.  
Except for Malawi, many other African countries had either government representatives or Members of Parliament including a minister from Namibia.

Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Swaziland had representatives identifying themselves as MPs while Ghana had their Justice Minister and Botswana, a high court judge who balanced presentations from the civil society and some who identified themselves as gays and sex workers.

According to a press statement issued by UNDP on August 4, the objective of the Africa Dialogue in Pretoria, South Africa was to provide a forum for governments and civil society in Africa to share information and experiences on creating enabling legal environments, addressing legal barriers and stigma and discrimination in the context of HIV.

Among other things, the meeting also addressed the impact of HIV-related law and policy relating to the marginalization and criminalisation of people living with HIV and those vulnerable to HIV; gender inequality and violence against women; discrimination in the context of HIV; access to HIV-related treatment; and issues of HIV and children.

In an interview, Shawa explained that approval for the trip came late when the meeting had already started.  She said she had to first get clearance and seek permission to attend  the meeting following a travel ban in government. 
According to her the UN was aware of the delays and she had even proposed another name.  She also dismissed reports that she had collected allowances in advance.

Shawa said she was also busy with the launch of the ‘Scale Up Nutrition’ (SUN) initiative to scale up efforts to fight malnutrition in children and eliminate stunting and had planned to attend the dialogue.

A representative from Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) Dunker Kamba who presented a paper on Men having sex with Men (MSMs) in Malawi bemoaned the lack of government officials.

       Dunker Kamba: Cedep Administrator
“It would have been very nice to have them around because a lot of issues which need government’s involvement were raised. The message that I had in my presentation was more on the service provision and recognition of MSMs in Malawi.”

“MSMs are taxpayers and are Malawians, our constitution provides for equal rights to all Malawians. 

"And as such I hinted on the need to include MSMs in the implementation of HIV programs since we already have them included in the NAC framework. The only thing is the implementation and I’m glad that government recognised that MSM are a vulnerable group in Malawi,” said Kamba.

He said social and cultural stigmas regarding same-sex intimacy have been cemented into the Malawian Penal Code which criminalize the sexual activities of MSM and WSW and the intersection of cultural and legal stigma and discrimination against them has resulted in a lack of epidemiological information on HIV and STI transmission, as well as other relative health concerns. 

“There are a lot of gaps which has arisen due to the difference in sexual orientation. In other words, the government, most civil society organizations, religious organizations and most Malawians in general believe that human rights only are applicable to the heterosexuals.  This is very visible from the laws of the land to the whole programming within the government setup,” said Kamba.

He added how unfortunate that in the National Aids framework, Men who have sex with Men are included as one of the Most at Risk group and it is obvious that, when funding which is meant for the target group is received, “it is diverted into other things leaving the target group with nothing but more vulnerability to HIV and Aids.”

Besides Kamba, other Malawian civil society representatives making presentations on various issues included Reverend MacDonald Sembereka of the Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and Aids (Manelera), who presented on marital rape and HIV and Chikosa Moses Ulendo Banda from the law faculty but presenting in his personal capacity about  Intellectual Property and access to medicines and legal frameworks supportive of efforts to provide drugs that are needed for the treatment of HIV and opportunistic infections.

Other members included Chisomo Zileni of National Youth Council and Dingaan Mithi of Journalists Association Against Aids. According to Banda, Justice Charles Mkandawire, the registrar of the Sadc Tribunal based in Windhoek also attended the dialogue.  

Took this picture of children in Milange, Mozambique admiring visiting Malawian children

Tracing footsteps to lead me home

Greetings from the Warm Heart Africa, Malawi.

I'm a Malawian journalist who grew up in many countries including South Africa, Belgium, then West Germany, UK, Washington DC and New York in the US and I love New York.

Trying to come up with the production of my life and by compiling some of my 1000 poems into a book called ‘Tracing Footsteps’ to lead me Home with excellent photography.

I also plan to film award winning documentaries based on the history of this ancient land called Malawi and the mysteries of the Sirius star. this space.