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By James Muonwa
THE Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) says its members are avoiding public Covid-19 vaccination centres because of discrimination.
In response, the sexual minorities rights group, is rolling out the establishment of safe sites where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons can access non-discriminatory healthcare services.
Last week, GALZ ran a static vaccination site in Harare to kick-start the mass inoculation exercise of its membership, which will soon be extended to Mutare and Masvingo.
Bulawayo has another resource centre, which has already engaged Bulawayo City Council’s health directorate to help the nation attain herd immunity by encouraging its members get their vaccine shots at safe sites on designated days.
In an interview with NewZimbabwe.com, a GALZ official who requested anonymity, said the rights organisation had initiated the ‘private’ jabbing campaign to protect sexual minorities from unwarranted attacks.
“We received information that some members felt wary of going to public health facilities to access the jabs because the Zimbabwean society remains largely homophobic, using the guise of religion and culture, to discriminate and violate LGBTI persons.
“Homophobia is the reason for most human rights violations that LGBTQ+ persons experience. Common violations include hate speech, blackmail, unlawful arrest and detention, disownment by families, excommunication from religious institutions, eviction, forced marriage, extortion, invasion of privacy and loss of employment,” said the GALZ officer.
As a result of stigma, discrimination and harassment, LGBTI persons oftentimes face hardships accessing healthcare services, the GALZ spokesperson noted.
“There maybe judgement from members of the public at the facility. For example, in queues, or where health professionals may not know what to do when dealing with an intersex or transgender person for the very first time.”
They added, “GALZ is complementing government efforts to ensure all people are vaccinated. As a UNFPA-Global Fund implementing partner under the key populations programme, we have a referral network for members in other cities and towns to access health facilities.
“Since the advent of Covid-19, GALZ has been running a weekly health services satellite clinic. This is an extension of the sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) clinic at Wilkins Hospital.”
In a bid to ensure its members access Covid-19 vaccines, GALZ and its partners mobilised resources to set up safe and non-discriminatory sites to curb the further spread of the deadly pandemic which has not spared its membership.
“Covid-19 does not discriminate, as such members did fall ill while some sadly lost family members just like other citizens. Travel bans made it difficult for persons who were used to accessing the pre-exposure prophlaxis (PrEP) and antiretroviral (ARVs) and other family planning services at friendly facilities.”
Also, the global pandemic affected livelihoods of GALZ members taking part in economic activities as successive lockdowns disrupted businesses resulting in job losses.
Online counselling units were set up to give psycho-social support to affected individuals.