The director of PNLS, the National AIDS Control Program, (third from left) at an outdoor meeting with the AHUSADEC team.
Posted by Ben Clapham July 10, 2013
Upon arriving in the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC), I was not sure what to expect from an organization in such a
precarious part of the world. Armed militias and UN peacekeepers are everywhere here, and I thought it would be
very difficult to do effective HIV outreach for GMT amidst all the chaos. But I’ve been in Bukavu for the past two days and all of my expectations and
thoughts about what working in the eastern Congo is like have been shattered,
thanks to the courageous work of amfAR’s current grantee, Action Humanitaire Pour la Santé et le
Développement Communautaire (AHUSADEC).
AHUSADEC’s new testing
center, which is funded by amfAR and authorized by the Ministry of Health, is
the first free testing center for HIV and STIs in the DRC for GMT. There are no
formal LGBT organizations here, and AHUSADEC’s exuberant program director, Modeste,
told me that they are the first group in the country that has dared to do work
targeting the GMT population. “GMT are humans. They have the same rights as
every Congolese citizen,” says Modeste. “We
have the opportunity, thanks to amfAR, to reach populations that have very
little information and even less access to health services for STIs and HIV.”
Nurse Bienfait at work at AHUSADEC’s new HIV testing center for GMT.
However, AHUSADEC is a
group dedicated to improving healthcare
access and human rights for all, not a GMT organization, and for that reason I
was apprehensive about how they would involve the GMT community in the project.
But after meeting with some local GMT individuals, it seemed clear to me that
AHUSADEC has gained their trust and support. The testing center is run by an
openly gay male nurse, Bienfait, and it was no surprise that the young GMT I
met were very comfortable with him and openly shared many private things in
their lives. But not only did they trust Bienfait, they were also jovial and
amicable with the entire staff. The testing
center opened less than one month ago, and AHUSADEC has already managed to test
nearly 60 GMT.
The Bukavu landscape at sunset.
(Left to right) AHUSADEC’s director Raphael, Modeste, Colonel Honoré, amfAR’s Ben Clapham, and an assistant police colonel meet about protecting sexual minorities in Bukavu.
amfAR is also funding AHUSADEC‘s
training program that brings together GMT and the police to educate both groups
about human rights and HIV at the same time, promptingdiscussions and
exchanges between them. GMT in DRC have
often been subjected to police harassment and violence, but AHUSADEC has now
garnered the attention of the Congolese National Police. Yesterday we met with Colonel
Honor é , the
police colonel in Bukavu who is in charge of protecting women, children, and sexual
minorities from human rights abuses and sexual abuse, and she told us that she
will sign an official document promising her support to protect sexual
minorities in Bukavu.
As the sun sets across the beautiful Lake Kivu, I am reminded of the amazing struggles AHUSADEC faces here in Bukavu to work with GMT and of the brave people doing the work.
amfAR receives funding from the Ford Foundation for grant making in Southern Africa.