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AFRICA: Gays call on govts not to ignore them

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

ABUJA, 8 December (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 ARN.

“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 AIDS.”

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.


Recent AFRICA Reports
Govt adopts more focused approach to help orphans,  21/Feb/06
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 271, 17 February 2006,  17/Feb/06
Armed forces to tackle impact of HIV/AIDS,  13/Feb/06
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 270, 10 February 2006,  10/Feb/06
Year in Review 2005 - Uneven progress in treatment provision,  3/Feb/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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