Tanzania suspends HIV outreach programmes because ‘homosexuality is illegal’

PinkNews logo on a pink background surrounded by illustrated line drawings of a rainbow, pride flag, unicorn and more.

Tanzania has suspended programmes aimed at tackling the spread of HIV because they acknowledged the existence of homosexuality.

In the East African country, sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Earlier this year, a government health minister warned charities not to engage with the LGBT community in his country.

The officizl: “Tanzania does not allow activist groups carrying out campaigns that promote homosexuality … Any attempt to commit unnatural offences is illegal and severely punished by law.

“I cannot deny the presence of LGBTI people in our country and the risk they pose in fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS but we don’t subscribe to the assertion that there’s a ‘gender continuum’.”

25 percent of men who have sex with men in the country are thought to have HIV, as the virus is rampant in the general population and little protection or education is available for the underground gay community.

The country has now followed through on the threat – and ‘temporarily’ suspended a number of HIV outreach programmes that included the LGBT community, alarming campaigners.

The government confirmed: “We have suspended MSM (men who have sex with men) community-based interventions pending review.”

The block has impacted a number of efforts, leading to fears that HIV prevention and treatment efforts will collapse under the burden.

Warren Naamara, director of the UNAIDS programme in Tanzania told the Washington Post: “These interruptions in treatment are very dangerous.

“In the short term, there are people who won’t go to [health] service centers, and if they aren’t on anti-retrovirals, what happens? It’s a major concern.”

The US government, which has spent more  than $65 billion tackling HIV/AIDS through the PEPFAR programme, is also concerned with Tanzania’s actions.

Speaking anonymously to the Post, a US official said: “PEPFAR recognises the importance of these key [LGBT] populations, and in order to reach many of them, you have to go where they are.

“[Cutting off access]  prolongs the epidemic in the end.”

Anti-gay sentiment has hardened in Tanzania in recent years, echoing the trend in neighbouring Uganda.

Tanzanian officials are also attempting to ban the import and sale of lubricant on the grounds that it “encourages homosexuality”.

A health minister said earlier this year: “The government has banned the importation and use of the jelly to curb the spread of HIV. I have instructed stakeholders working with gay people to remove the products from the market.”