HIV activist: It’s all about gender

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When Friedel Dausab got the results of his HIV test in 2001, he wanted to contribute to the response to the epidemic in his country, but he couldn’t see a way.

In Namibia, then, he says now, the response seemed “medicalized” to the exclusion of any contribution someone like him could make — a gay, HIV-postive man, who had only studied education, psychology, humanities. In any case, his doctor told him, he probably wouldn’t survive more than a couple of more years without treatment.

Dausab will be one of the speakers at Community and Science Speak – Research, policy and practice meet, to discuss providing patient-centered care, and reducing risks for gay and transgender people and men who have sex with men, during the July 22 -27 International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. The series of discussions are sponsored by the Center for Global Health Policy, and the HIV Medicine Association with support from ACTION, amfAR, Health Gap, Treatment Action Group, and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition.

His way there began when a friend invited him to a meeting held by Ibis, a Danish-founded organization in Namibia.

“I found people like me — what I would call people like me, living with HIV,” he says now. He was asked to speak at the next meeting about the experience of living with HIV as a gay man in Namibia, and did. He became a project officer for the group, helping launch “post-test clubs”  and the group’s community-based offshoot, Positive Vibes.

Still, he says, efforts to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people affected by HIV and AIDS, didn’t exist.

“NGO’s weren’t including them, the government wasn’t, there was no funding,” Dausab says. Also lacking — any data showing the impact of the epidemic on those, and other ignored people.

The reason — “Like all the British colonies, we did inherit the anti-sodomy law.” Homosexuality is not illegal, he points out. Just acting on it.

“At the same time, we knew LGBT people were living with HIV,” Dausab says. “I was an example of that.”

He left Ibis and went to the Rainbow Project, an organization advocating for rights of sexual minorities. There, he found talk of fighting discrimination, but little talk of HIV.

He got involved in a project to gather data, showing HIV existed among men who have sex with men, which helped, Dausab says, to engage donors and government. The problem of exclusion remained, though. “Unfortunately, this term MSM leaves out lesbians, bisexual, transgender people,” he says. Data on the epidemic’s impact on all of those is still absent he says. Still, he sees promise, and finally interest on the part of donors, to see their money put to effective use. He would like to see change come from within his own country.

“We need to look at the law,” he says. “we need to address issues around gender, gender-based violence, gender equity. It’s all about gender in the end. What is a man supposed to be? What is a woman supposed to be? They are part of the communities in which we live, in which we all try to find happiness.”

Dialogues need to spring from communities, and around religion, he says.

“Once that happens,” he adds, “I think the rest will fall into place.”

Friedel Dausab, who now works as a consultant on efforts to include and address the needs of sexual minorities in HIV responses,  will speak about “MSM and transgender individuals: Reducing risk and providing patient-centered care and treatment in the developing world,” at the Community and Science Speak networking zone at IAS 2012: Global Village (Hall B), Booth Number 821, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Wedenesday, July 25.



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