Malawi’s Vice president, Joyce Banda, has urged the faith leaders to open up on same sex partners in order for the country to make significant strides in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
The Vice President made the appeal on Wednesday when she officially opened a high-level religious leader’s policy advocacy conference in the commercial city of Blantyre.
The Malawi Interfaith Association (MIA) organised the conference which seeks to find solutions to the rapid HIV infection rate among members of the clergy.
Banda said same-sex liaisons are a realityin Malawi saying there were Men Having Sex with fellow Men (MSMs) and that there were also lesbians, – Women Having Sex With Women.
“I am of the opinion that MIA is strategically positioned to bring faith leaders together to debate on how faith response to HIV and AIDS should reposition itself to tackle the issue of homosexuality without necessarily compromising moral integrity of faith institutions,” Banda a devout Christian said.
She said gays and lesbians are vulnerable groups and that they need to be paid attention by the clergy in the national response to fight HIV/Aids.
Homosexuality is currently outlawed in the Malawi but there reports that it is practiced by even prominent people.
The vice president also observed that the religious leaders were unable to match their actions with words on issues regarding HIV and AIDS.
She disclosed that Malawi is phasing–out the current first line of treatment of life-prolonging Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs) and will adopt new World Health Organisation (WHO)-initiated guidelines next year.
The U.N. indicates in the revised guidelines that countries also need to start providing treatment much earlier when the measure of immune system strength, the CD4 count, is at 350 cells per cubic milliliter or less and not at the current 200.
The Vice President said implementation of a new HIV/AIDS treatment regimen according to latest world standards will mean a significant adjustment in the cost of ARVs since the number of those requiring ARVs will shoot up by about 50 per cent.
This means more will benefit and more lives will be saved,” said the Vice President.
But Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (MANET+) has expressed concern that the new drugs, which cost three times as much as the current regime used, will be too expensive for government to manage providing free treatment to the poor and children.
MANET+ is worried that not everyone who needs the antiretroviral therapy (ART) will have access.
“At the moment, not all people who require treatment are getting it. Government is failing to provide free treatment for many poor people and children including orphans who need it most,” said advocacy officer of Manet, George Kampango.
Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission (NAC), a public trust which coordinates national response to HIV and AIDS, Reverend Bernard Malango recognised that the rapid infection rate of HIV and Aids amongst religious leaders is due to the reality that they were not matching their words with actions.