WHO-Africa Boss Unhappy Over Gays, Sex Workers Criminalization

  • Joins the chorus of those calling for decriminalization
  • Says this hinders eff orts for universal coverage and reduction of new HIV infections


World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who also happens to be a Motswana, says the government of Botswana should look into decriminalizing sex work and homosexuality if they are to archive universal coverage.
The WHO constitution enshrines “the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” According to WHO, the right to health includes access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality.
Matshidiso in an interview with this publication said “As long as homosexuality and sex workers are still criminalized in Botswana, the country will struggle to adequately arrest the scourge of HIV/AIDS.”
“We need to ensure that key populations such as those living with HIV/AIDS, Men who have sex with Men (MSM), the LGBTIQ community and sex workers are included in the implementation of the national strategy and as long as we have excluded them, all our efforts will be in vain. We also need to change the mindset of the service providers who assist these key members who are so vulnerable,” she added.
Recent survey results have indicated that while Batswana affirm their freedom to say what they think, associate with any organization they want and vote for the candidate of their choice, the majority is not supportive of freedom of sexual orientation.
According to Matshidiso, a conservative, values and norms-minded mindset hinders progress in the health sector, “Countries are spending more to treat people but what are we doing to prevent such incidences, in most African countries these key population groups are unlikely to seek out medical help or advice simply because they don’t want to be arrested for being gay or having sex for money.”
The Regional Director also noted that it is redundant to try and police these groups and their activities as it is an impossible task that also wastes tax payers’ resources that could otherwise be used in helping with the provisional of better health care.
These comments reaffirm former president Festus Mogae’s controversial sentiments that African governments including Botswana must not enact laws that criminalize homosexuality and sex work since such legislation would inhibit the fight against HIV/AIDS. Mogae also called for condoms to be distributed in prisons.
MP Botlogile Tshireletso has in the past also criticized the National Aids Council as well as other Members of Parliament for shying away from discussing sensitive and unpopular subjects such as sex work and homosexuality.
Botswana’s constitution embraces the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of expression, assembly and association. However, some sexual acts, including certain same-sex acts are illegal.
Homosexual acts are illegal in many African countries, and Uganda and the Gambia recently made headlines with new anti-gay legislation. Despite the fact that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are supported by the United Nations and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (an African Union body), South Africa is the only country on the continent where the constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and recognizes same-sex marriages.
In 2013, a non-governmental organization called Lesbians, Gays & Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) won a court case with the High Court of Botswana after challenging the refusal by the Director of National Registration and the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs to register it as society.