Sitting there with them felt like committing a mortal sin; and listening to their nonsense somehow made this reporter feel uneasy, being born and raised in a nation termed ‘God-fearing’.
But for whatever it was; pity, sympathy or mere curiosity, this reporter still sat there listening to the trio as it narrated its story.
Joe, Albert and Mike as they would like to be named in this story, are bisexuals: And for the sake of starters, (bisexuals are) just one category or designation of men who have sex with men; and in particular, this one consists of men who have sex with both females and males.
According to members of this category, having sex with fellow men feels the same as having sex with females.
“The attraction that I feel towards females and males is totally the same, and there’s no way I can distinguish between having sex with a male and a female; it’s almost the same, so it’s not only hard but rather impossible for me to stop having sex with one gender between the two, because if I did, I surely would be feeling nostalgic,” declared Joe just before he revealed the pain that he and his fellows bisexuals in Mulanje district are going through.
Joe is sick, and so is Albert who has been his sexual partner for a year and a half now. And that’s not all because behind Joe and Albert, there is a woman who is sick too: Joe’s wife. The three are sharing a commonly known Sexually Transmitted Infection: Syphilis.
As Albert explains, it all began in December last year (2015) when he had a one-night-stand with some gay friend from Blantyre at a drinking joint after the public had suspected him and his partner Joe to be engaging in homosexual activity, causing tension between the two that they could no longer see each other, let alone be seen together in public for fear of persecution.
“As it is currently, our country does not openly recognize homosexuals’ rights, as evidenced by embarrassing situations that some Men having sex with Men were put through over the past months, including some being arrested and ridiculed in public for being known to be gay; so generally speaking the situation is hostile that we have to keep hiding,” he said.
He added that all these occasions put fear into him and his friends, leading him into engaging a new guy from whom he was sure he caught the Syphilis.
Months down the line, Albert and his wife Sharon are sharing the Syphilis, and so is Joe, but the two men cannot visit the hospital because medical personnel treat them with contempt when they realize that they are gay.
“It is very easy for medical people to know that you caught the STIs in a gay act because you’ll be found with clinical manifestations of STIs in abnormal parts such as the anal area, and at that point you’ll see the medical person screaming or scowling at you in disbelief,” he said, adding that such a scenario occurred to him in 2014, consequently causing him to start avoiding visiting the hospital.
In view of his situation, Joe would rather visit a private clinic, where he thinks he would be treated with respect because of his money, but currently he does not have a reliable source of money that he is struggling to feed himself.
EFFECT ON THE INNOCENT
On his part, Joe’s greatest worry is that his new wife might go through the very same tragedy that his ex-wife went through, when he infected her with Syphilis.
“While dating another guy with whom I broke up, I also caught an STI and my ex wife with whom I had been married for only three months and was pregnant, caught it through me. We went to the hospital and got treatment as a family and the STI was healed, but between me and my male partner we knew that it was hard for us to go to the hospital and get treated, especially that his STI was on the back. So we did not get any treatment but we kept having our usual experience.
“In that way I re-transmitted the STI to my wife, and we went back to the hospital. We went back and forth for three times until when my wife said enough was enough and she denied going again,” Joe explained.
He added that his wife later fell pregnant again, but had a miscarriage in the fifth month after staying with the Infection for six months and there after she never got pregnant again.
Said Joe, “When we finally visited the hospital together again, she was told that she could no longer bear children as she had lost fertility due to the STI.” According to one (anonymity seeking) female sex worker who is known to have had a great deal of acquaintances with men having sex with men in the district, Sexually Transmitted Infections are a big talk among homosexuals as most of them easily catch them and fail to access medical treatment.
As she detailed, some homosexuals reach an extent of visiting herbalists in the district, in order to seek assistance, a thing she is not sure really works.
Additionally, addressing a District Executive Committee meeting in Mulanje, Health Programmes Officer for the Center for the Development of People (CEDEP) Tiferanji Vizyalona said the current nature of gay rights in the country indirectly fuels discrimination of members of the group, as such homosexuals cannot keep their relationships for a long time, fearing public suspicion.
“Due to the persecutions that have happened in the past, these people keep rotating relationships because they don’t want to be seen and known to be dating a fellow man if people in a community see them quite often together, so they must keep changing in order to avoid suspicion, and on the run they easily catch HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections,” he said.
Vizyalona further noted that denying these groups health services is against government’s plans, as government itself endorses provision of health services and information to minority groups by setting it as a priority in its 2015-2020 National HIV Strategic Plan.
“Realizing this, we have started a fresh relationship with the health sector in Mulanje and all the districts where we are working, and we are working together in order to achieve government’s goals of reaching everyone with messages and services aiming at curbing HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections,” he added.
Responding to the accusations leveled against medical staff in the district that they deny health services for the homosexuals, Dr. Khuliena Kabwere who is the District Health Officer disagreed with the argument saying health workers are well-trained and they carry out their duties without discriminating any person for any reason as stipulated in their work ethics.
“Maybe the MSM just fail to visit the health facilities for reasons best known to themselves but our staff always treat everybody equally including MSM, with respect and no stigmatization attached, so they shouldn’t fear to visit the facilities,” stressed Kabwere.
In a survey conducted in 2014 CEDEP established that Mulanje is home to 2, 364 MSM, among whom 24.9 percent were HIV positive (against the district’s 17.1 percent), and 8.7 percent were infected with Syphilis.
In view of the findings, CEDEP holds a stand that as the government’s new strategic plan requires, leaving out a particular high risk population with no medical attention does not leave the rest of the population safe.
As Vizyalona explains, such a small population abandoned and condemned, could in turn haunt society, infecting dozens and dozens with the virus as time passes by.
The biggest danger that is there as he explained is that groups such as the bisexuals constantly engage in sexual acts with women, who in turn may also have sexual engagements with other men thereby creating an unbreakable death circle.
“It’s like you’re in a closed room where a few people are smoking in the corner and the rest of the people at the center of the room think they are okay because they are not the ones with lighted cigarettes; forgetting that slowly as it goes the passive smoking they are doing there will still have an effect on them as time passes,” Vizyalona concluded.