New enterprise will help combat the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa
By Daniel Mitri
This May, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched the LGBTQ Initiative, aimed to assist in the AIDS and HIV crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Aside from providing medical support, the initiative strives to ensure that the human rights of those in the LGBTQ community are ensured, and offers vital anti-stigma campaigns.
A significant number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a long history of oppression towards LGBTQ communities, with 34 out of 54 countries criminalizing same-sex relationships between men, and 24 countries targeting relationships between women. Each day, members of the community face various levels of discrimination and harassment, with fears of imprisonment and even death plaguing the lives of many.
“Corrective rape” is also a common punishment in these countries, which is used to reinforce “societal norms.” Aside from the psychological and physical damage caused to victims, this atrocity is also a driving factor in the spread of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
Because of these conditions, the existing LGBTQ organizations are forced to spend a large portion of their funding on the battle for human rights and security. As a result, the financial support for HIV and AIDS services is being depleted, and many affected members of the community are left without necessary treatment.
The Stephen Lewis Foundation’s new LGBTQ Initiative helps fund local HIV/AIDS prevention groups, counselling, testing and treatment, and a substantial amount of healthcare support to combat the pandemic. Communities are supported by mobile HIV clinics, which use code numbers to identify clients to ensure their anonymity and safety. Workers must also store their documents offsite, as the threat of office raids could jeopardize the safety of clinic staff.
The Canadian foundation has vowed to provide $1 million over the next two years in support. This large donation will continue to support the struggle for human rights, and will also offer emergency resources for the organizations that are in need of assistance.
Stephen Lewis began his foundation in 2003; it currently works with more than 300 community-level organizations to combat HIV and AIDS in Africa. Today, the not-for-profit organization continues to fund more than 1,400 initiatives in 15 African countries that are most affected by the AIDS pandemic.
The foundation provides support for women, orphaned children, grandmothers and those directly affected by HIV and AIDS. With its support, communities are provided with education and counselling on HIV prevention, treatment and medication, food distribution, and education and support for orphaned children.
While the injustices that occur in sub-Saharan Africa may seem distant to many, the LGBTQ Initiative does accept support from donations and organized fundraisers. For further questions about how to get involved, visit www.stephenlewisfoundation.org.
DANIEL MITRI is a Toronto-based writer with a strong interest in music, politics and cooking. If he’s not playing his bass guitar, you can find him poking through vintage record stores and frequenting 24 hour restaurants.