The head of the US global Aids programme warned on Thursday that Tanzania could see a cut-off in funding due to the country’s announced ban on HIV/Aids outreach programmes aimed at gay men.
“We have made it incredibly clear that this is a response for 100 per cent of the people at risk of HIV/Aids,” US Global Aids Coordinator Deborah Birx said in regard to the President’s Emergency Programme for Aids Relief (Pepfar).
“And I think if there comes a time when it becomes clear that the government of Tanzania doesn’t believe that everyone in their country deserves access to health care, that would be difficult for us to continue that kind of investment in Tanzania,” Dr Birx added in an interview with Washington-based National Public Radio.
She argued that it is wrong to isolate a particular group of HIV-positive persons and refuse to meet their health care needs.
Dr Birx noted that many African men who have sex with other men also engage in sexual activity with women.
“So to ignore an entire population that interacts daily with the general population doesn’t make any public health sense,” the top US Aids official added.
Dr Birx noted that Tanzania Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu is a human rights attorney.
The minister “should understand that health care is a human right”, Dr Birx said.
The US provided Tanzania with $412 million in Pepfar funding last year.
That sum enabled HIV testing and counselling for 6.2 million Tanzanians, including 638,000 who received life-saving anti-Aids treatment.
Partly due to Pepfar, the overall HIV infection rate in Tanzania has dropped from 12 per cent to 5 per cent since 2002.
Minister Mwalimu said in October that Tanzania was suspending HIV/Aids outreach programmes for gay patients pending a review of whether the initiative promoted same-sex relations.
That move forced an at least temporary shutdown of Pepfar-funded programmes that provide HIV testing and medical treatment to gay men.
“We have to believe that the government of Tanzania understands that they have to serve all communities,” Global Aids Coordinator Birx stated in her radio interview on Thursday.