Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting our heads out of the sand

Something that really rankles about the ongoing "I hate gay people" nonsense is how destructive such a head-in-the-sand approach can be. I largely see this inability to zoom out in one's thinking on policy issues a major pervasive issue in most African countries, but this is truly ridiculous. How do you hope to take care of public health issues -- particularly one that deals with STIs -- if you adopt a willfully ignorant stance? Take the Zambian prison system for example, which really sounds like your run-of-the-mill public health nightmare (audio). Forget overcrowding and food rationing -- how do you plan on counteracting a growing tuberculosis and HIV/Aids problem in prisons if you don't recognize that men will have (sometimes consensual, sometimes not) sex? From the report:

Our findings suggested a high prevalence of sexual activity between male (but not female) inmates, including consensual sex between adults and the adult relationships described above in which sex was traded for food. PRISCCA, ARASA, and Human Rights Watch also heard reports of rape. Sexual activity was reported at Mukobeko, Kamfinsa, and Lusaka Central prisons, and less frequently at Mumbwa, Mwembeshi, and Choma prisons.

Chris, 17, reported that:
I have witnessed sexual abuse. One of the older inmates who was put into our cell to sleep at night started showering my cellmate, a juvenile, with gifts. He promised him money in return for sexual favors. My friend wasn’t happy, and neither did he consent. But the other imposed himself by buying him off with gifts, and saying that there was 100,000 kwacha [US$21] waiting for him “at the reception”. When the older inmate finally approached him sexually, my friend was intimidated, but managed to shout and attracted the attention of the other juveniles. Unfortunately we reported it to the officer on duty at night, and he promised to address it the next day, but he didn’t. The cell captain intervened, though, and removed the man, putting him into one of the other cells....Do I feel safe? No, I don’t feel safe.
Not everyone is being silly, of course. From Rwanda in February:

"Behaviour change communications could be more appropriate than sanctions to prevent MSM [men who have sex with men], and should focus on increasing risk perception, de-stigmatizing condoms, and promoting other strategies for sexual gratification," said the ministry's study.
Among the dark insanity, a ray of common sense.

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