Focus on Sexual Minorities in Burundi

ACORD and its partners is working with the very discriminated LGBTI-community of Burundi as part of the efforts for addressing the initiatives for ensuring the rights of access to HIV prevention and AIDS treatment and care for Hard to Reach communities in East and central Africa.. A training session was held on 31 July 2012 to raise awareness of the high number of HIV infection rate among the LGBTQI-community.

The debate around right to health services for hard to reach populations like the commercial sex workers, ethnic and sexual minorities is slowly gaining acceptance and space in the public sphere of Burundi. In particular for decades the sexual minorities have been discriminated by law and by negative attitudes. In this regard, Burundi, like the countries in the ECA region, has banned same-sex practices at the risk of imprisonment of two to three years or fines of 50,000 - 100,000 Burundian francs (30-60 Euros). However, unlike the other countries in the region (such as Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda), Burundi did not inherit the existence of these anti-gay laws, but initiated them on its own motives. These criminalizing laws have continue to abate the spread of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, as the persons involved tend to operate underground and are not reached by prevention and treatment services.

While the government of Burundi officially abolished death penalty as a punishment of same-sex relations, but continued to ban homosexuality in 2009, an act seen as a step backwards by the local LBGTI-community. Some of the health organizations welcomed the new trend with growing suspicions around the issue of HIV/AIDS, a contagious disease that is knowingly more common within the LBGTIs.

To address the need for access to prevention and treatment services for LGBTQI community, grass-root organizations doing valuable work to raise awareness and educate the LBGTQI-community as well as other people about the potential exposure to the risk of HIV infections associated with unprotected sexual practices, as well as the need to ensure protection as a right and not a privilege for hard to reach communities... As it appeared in the conference, small things such as distributing condoms and lube make a big difference. In practical terms, the MAIN program launched by ACORD and its partners, has already trained nearly 500 health care providers about LBGTQI-rights, distributed about 15 000 condoms and 4000 lubes.

There are visible positive results of the program interventions, in particular for the LGBTQIs as one of the hard to reach communities. As it appears on the testimonies of LBGTQIs, many of them were not aware of how vulnerable they are to HIV/AIDS. Awareness raising works on attitudes and allows a better access to health care. Many LBGTQI admitted feeling very reluctant to talk about their situations with a health care worker before the trainings took place. Breaking the taboos and talking about even the most sensitive issues evidently work to change the rather judgmental climate. The road to total access to services by LGBTQIs through openness about LGBTQI-experiences, is long, but with the passion the local actors carry, anything can be achieved.

Blog originated by: Riikka Leppanen

Read: ACORD's Maisha Plus Newsletter on HIV and AIDS

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