TANZANIA: Bars, sex trade fuelling HIV spread, say Zanzibar's Muslims

The battle against HIV/AIDS in Zanzibar will not succeed as long as trade in alcohol and commercial sex work continue to thrive on the island, according to Muslim leaders.

"Zanzibar would have been free of HIV/AIDS if Muslims stuck to their religious teachings but, mainly, if the government was serious about controlling the spread of pubs, especially in residential areas," said Sheikh Azzan Khalid, deputy leader of the Zanzibar Islamic Propagation Group. "The state television has been a key player in moral decay by showing programmes which promote sex."

Tanzania's semiautonomous island of Zanzibar, with a population of just under one million, is predominantly Muslim. While HIV levels in Zanzibar remain significantly lower than the seven percent prevalence on the mainland, the government's senior epidemiology and surveillance coordinator, Ameir Khamis, estimated that by the end of 2005, some 8,000 Zanzibaris were living with HIV/AIDS, up from 6,000 in 2002.

"HIV/AIDS activists tell us that pubs, commercial sex, poverty and lack of awareness have been among the causes of the spread of the virus," said Ali Abdurrahman, a resident of Stone Town, Zanzibar's main urban centre. "But what have the authorities done to at least control the mushrooming of pubs and commercial sex on the island?"

At a recent one-day HIV/AIDS seminar for residents by the Stone Town Heritage Society, Abdurrahman noted, "We have done hundreds of seminars and workshops, but instead of recording progress in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS, figures show an increase. The government has not been serious about controlling the obvious cause of the spread of the epidemic."

He noted that "in the late 1980s, the whole of Zanzibar had hardly 10 pubs, but you now talk of hundreds; our island had no people in commercial sex, but now it is almost legal work in Zanzibar".

Khalid said HIV/AIDS would continue to spread as long as the government was issuing licenses to pubs and not bothering to control rising transactional sex on the island.

During Friday prayers in the island's mosques, Imams regularly call on their followers to abstain from sex outside marriage. They have expressed strong opposition to the escalating number of bars, and have condemned the growing number of advertisements for alcoholic beverages, despite government policy prohibiting this.

Fadhil Soraga, from the office of Zanzibar's Mufti [senior Muslim scholar], which is responsible for Muslim affairs on the Island, commented, "Only reshaping the public to abstain from illegal sex and alcohol will help the fight against HIV/AIDS."

Theme (s): Arts/Culture - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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