Dar es Salaam. Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu yesterday came out to the public to clarify the directive she issued earlier on the distribution of lubricants to gay men.
She said the ban on the lubricants was only specific for the NGOs that were importing and supplying them to gay men. She declined to mention the names of the NGOs involved in that, when asked by The Citizen. “I have not banned the use of the lubricants in the country [for other purposes],’’ wrote Ms Mwalimu on her official Facebook page, noting that a section of the media had misled the public about the matter.
She later told The Citizen that the government has already embarked on plans to scrap off sections in some HIV treatment guidelines that allowed provision of the lubricants to MSM in the country.
The guidelines say, “Lack of access to appropriate lubricants and violence against sex workers all have close links to higher prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Infections.’’
She said that the NGOs were now using the guidelines as justification for distributing lubricants to many youth in regions across the country. She noted that the provision of the use of the jelly was fueling the spread of HIV among the youth.
“One of the leading NGOs has heeded the directive and it has reported to me. And many others will follow suit. Next week, I’ll carry out an inspection to confirm if indeed they stopped supplying the lubricants,’’ she told The Citizen.
A Dar-based study revealed two years ago that the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men was 42 pe rcent, compared to other high risk groups. Among the people who inject drugs, the prevalence was 51 per cent; among sex workers, it was 31 per cent.
The WHO warned two years ago that failure to provide ample HIV services for key groups—such as gays and sex workers threatened global progress in the HIV fight.
The Minister, however, said the guidelines issued on dealing with HIV among such groups in Tanzania have been misguided by allowing the component of promoting the use of lubricants.
She said her docket was keen on some of the services that would conflict with Tanzanian cultural norms.
Early this month, the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Mr Paul Makonda, announced a major crackdown against gay people and this was followed by arrests of suspected gay men in clubs