Zvamaida Murwira in Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA Sadc governments should reconsider decriminalising public health challenges like abortion, drug use, transmission of HIV and AIDS and homosexual as use of the law did not help in curbing the vice, Sadc Parliamentary Forum president and Speaker of Seychelles Parliament, Dr Patrick Hermine has said. Dr Hermine, who is a medical practitioner by training, said there was need for advocacy among other strategies as part of effort to promote value addition on sexual reproduction health and rights. The Sadc PF president said this while addressing Members of Parliament from the region during a joint session of Sadc regional standing committees for capacity strengthening on criminalization and stigmatization of public health challenges. “As a medical practitioner, I know from training and experience that criminalisation has no place in public health; if anything it is counterproductive in that it drives people underground, far from public health care and other services,” said Dr Hermine.

“The evidence that criminalisation as a public health-ensuring strategy does not work is too plain to contest. I invite all of us to smell the coffee and take rational decisions to deliver universal access to all of our people, lest history judges us harshly.” He said criminalisation of abortion, for example, pushed women underground where many of them would die of diseases or other complications. “These things are happening in our countries and we cannot bury our heads in the sand and wish them away.

We are not ostriches! We need to take bold steps to protect human rights and public health,” he said. He reaffirmed what Sadc PF resolved in Botswana recently that criminalizing transmission of HIV and AIDS was not the best way to go. “As we work towards ending AIDS as a public health threat and achieving universal access to Sexual Reproductive Health, my plea is that we say no to criminalization and discrimination, shun anecdotal evidence and begin to advocate and legislate on the basis of sound evidence,” he said. Dr Hermine said he was convinced that drug use was caused by addiction. “It is my humble opinion that drug addiction is a disease like diabetes and high blood pressure.

It is the height of folly to believe that this public health issue can be tackled through legislation,” he said. Dr Hermine asserted that lesbians and gays were born with the habit. “That peoples are born as LGBTI is now beyond dispute. If it is inborn, then it is a human right issue,” he said. “To those who believe that my speech was provocative, I have this to say; yes it was meant to be provocative.

Some of you will not agree with everything I said but I say “let there be a debate”. Speaking at the same occasion, a United Nations AIDS representative, Mr Patrick Eba, said laws that criminalised HIV and AIDS transmission were in most cases too broad. He said governments should consider several strides that had been achieved in terms of containing the pandemic such as access to treatment and decriminalise its transmission.

Zimbabwe is being represented here by Matabeleland Senator Tambudzani Mohadi, Manicaland Sen Monica Mutsvangwa, Zaka East MP Cde Samson Mukanduri (all from Zanu-PF), Mutare MP Mr Innocent Gonese (MDC-T) and Bulawayo Metropolitan MP Ms Jasmine Toffa (MDC.)

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