“Monkeypox is not a gay disease!”

By: Lissilanne Silva (@lissilanne)

Oscar Bolaños Melian has been volunteering for the past 3 years at Noaks Ark Mosaik, one of the Mi-Health HIV Partnership partner organisations in Sweden, where he migrated to nearly 5 years ago. Oscar is part of the Partnership Steering Committee, an HIV advocate and an art lover. He has also candidly shared with us his life experiences, including the discrimination that sadly he continues to face as a gay man.

Oscar, 56 years old, was born in Spain in the small Grand Canary Island. He remembers a happy childhood — full of energy and a huge love for dance that later was part of artistic life as a drag queen. He also remembers the key events that marked his life to this day and the lessons he learned from them.

From a very young age, learning languages played a big role in his life as he describes that speaking different languages “gives him freedom”, a freedom that he felt was threatened when he contracted HIV nearly 20 years ago. For him, this was a life changing moment that dictated the steps he would take moving forward. It led to him raising awareness about the virus, especially within the gay community, and its relationship with drugs.

Though Oscar is open about his status today, he recalls a period where he had to hide his status due to the homophobia he would face in previous workplaces. Recently, with the outbreak of monkeypox, Oscar saw himself and his community, once again, being associated and discriminated against in relation to a virus.

“Monkeypox is not a gay disease!”, says Oscar after having contracted it and endured discriminatory remarks that the virus is now carrying. To him, a different sexual orientation is not the reason to get a disease or virus and campaigning to zero stigma can save us all from the nightmare people suffered, rooted in a deep lasting stigma that remains to this date with the outbreak of HIV/AIDS back in the 80s. These medical conditions spread together within a social context of fear, shame and prejudice.

Figure 2: Oscar with his late dog, Bruno

Oscar shared that the use of drugs and engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners is part of the reality of some young men in his hometown that are sadly unaware of the possible risks of such a lifestyle. Hence, for him, raising awareness and providing access to information about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is fundamental if we want to eradicate the epidemic by 2030.

Specialists confirm that giving access to relevant and key foundational information about sexual health, reduces the risks of infection. It also reduces stigma, a factor that not only prevents those that that are HIV positive from being open about their status, but also to prevents them from seeking support and remaining on effective treatment after the positive diagnosis. There have been transformational changes in HIV treatment and prevention since the 80s and it should no longer be a death sentence.

Oscar, a travel, and language lover (he currently speaks 6 main languages!), shares that despite obstacles that he might be facing, he remains a man full of dreams with a desire to move forward. Going back to his home island in Grand Canary and settling there with a gastronomy and arts business is part of his forward vision. In the meantime, he´s happy with his advocacy work and his married life to (partner name), a painter and an art lover just like him. 

The Mi-Health Europe team would like to thank Oscar for his candor and willingness to share his experiences. Watch this space for updates on our Mi-Health HIV Partnership. Would your organization be interested in partnering with us? We would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out at mihealth@africadvocacy.org.

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