An MSP has called on the First Minister to work with the government of Malwai to help boost LGBTI rights and widen access to HIV/AIDS treatment services.
Writing to Nicola Sturgeon ahead of World Aids Day, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has drawn attention to the challenges facing LGBTI people and those with HIV/AIDS living in the African nation, with which Scotland has historic and ongoing links.
In his letter, the MSP for Orkney wrote: “Scotland’s relationship with Malawi began with David Livingstone and today our countries are closer than ever. We are rightly proud of the ties that we have built up with our friends in Malawi and the difference that development assistance from Scotland has made in the country. Working in partnership, we have delivered real improvements to health and education, the environment and energy, agriculture and trade, and arts and culture.
“One of the major challenges that Malawi faces is the high prevalence of HIV. Real progress has been made in reducing the number of new infections but at present, there are real questions over whether the LGBTI community living with HIV will be able to receive the support and treatment they need.
“Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, gay people in Malawi still face legal barriers and stigma that makes it hugely difficult for them to go about their lives. With research suggesting that more than 20% of MSM in Malawi are living with HIV, the potential adverse health consequences of this are clear.
“If we are to eradicate the scourge of HIV/AIDS then we cannot ignore marginalised communities. Tackling legal and social prejudice against LGBTI people is fundamental to ending AIDS. Living under the threat of persecution or prosecution will not help people living with HIV remain healthy or prevent the further spread of the disease.
“With equal marriage now on the statute books, Scotland and the UK have led the world on LGBTI rights. Ahead of World Aids Day, I urge you to press the case for LGBTI rights with President Mutharika and work with our partners in Malawi to ensure access to HIV treatment is not restricted.”
In 2005, the then First Minister Jack McConnell signed the Scotland-Malawi Partnership, in which 94,000 Scots and 198,000 Malawians are actively involved.
While the government of Malawi moved to suspend anti-gay laws in 2012, a law introduced earlier this year mentions gay sex as comparable to rape and sexual harassment. Human Rights Watch has found that even unenforced anti-gay laws have dangerous consequences for LGBTI people in Malawi, including restricted access to health services.
Research has revealed an HIV prevalence rate of 21.3% amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) in Malawi. Mr McArthur has warned that the threat of persecution and prosecution on grounds of sexuality will make it hugely challenging for people living with HIV in the LGBTI community in Malawi to receive necessary treatment.