ABUJA, December 8, 2005 (PlusNews)
– Gay activists at an international conference on AIDS in Africa have
called on governments to acknowledge the existence and specific needs of the
gay community in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“According to all the surveys done
on the African continent, AIDS programmes for MSM [men who have sex with
men] are inadequate or even non-existent,” said a representative of Alliance
Rights Nigeria (ARN), a Nigerian gay rights organisation.
Speaking at the International
Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (ICASA) held
in Abuja, Nigeria, he pointed out that the risk of HIV infection among MSM
was particularly high, while the use of condoms and knowledge of HIV/AIDS
and sexually transmitted infections (STI) was worryingly low.
Although the criminalisation of
homosexuality made it difficult to collect data, a representative of the
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) noted, “some
estimates show that HIV infection rates among MSM are on average four to
five times higher than the ones among the rest of the population.”
In Senegal the HIV prevalence rate
within the general population is 1.5 percent, but according to the country’s
national AIDS council, among MSM the figure soars to over 21 percent.
“It is a real crisis which most
African governments and international AIDS programmes still ignore,” said an
IGLHRC representative during a panel discussion on MSM.
Homosexuality is still considered a
crime in most African countries. In Nigeria, acts deemed “unnatural”, such
as sodomy, can be punished with up to 14 years imprisonment.
In the 12 northern states of the
country that have adopted Islamic shari’ah law, conviction for sodomy can
result in the death penalty.
The weight of the law, and the
stigma attached to homosexuality, has driven MSM underground. An estimated
40 percent of Nigerian MSM are married, and to be effective HIV/AIDS
programmes have to target them as well as the rest of the population, said
“The respect of the inalienable
right to have access to high standards of sexual health is the key to HIV
prevention and to the efforts made in order to reduce the impact of AIDS in
Africa,” the rights group stressed.
But while knowledge of safer sex
practices among MSM is generally poor, within the lesbian community it is
lower still, activists pointed out.
Quoting a Ford Foundation-funded
study in Kampala, Uganda, a member of the panel noted women who have sex
with women (WSW) “were convinced that they could not get STIs or be infected
with HIV ... It is essential that WSW do not consider themselves immune to
Specific programmes for MSM and WSW
have to be devised and implemented that take account of their separate
realities, and both communities should have access to proper care and
support, the activists said.
“However the government and even
the media refuse to believe that we exist,” said a Ghanaian gay rights
participant at ICASA.
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Humanitarian Affairs 2005