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SENEGAL: Gays fight to be included in anti-AIDS campaigns

Senegal's fledgling gay movement is battling for recognition in the struggle against HIV/AIDS and hopes to win its first ever government grant to assist homosexuals living with the disease.

The problem is that homosexuality is illegal in devoutly Muslim Senegal, and the MSM movement - the acronym stands for "Men who have sex with men" - is asking for funds from the government-run National Council to Fight AIDS (CNLS).

The five-year-old MSM movement claims to have 400 members out of a population of 10 million.

Leaders of the group told PlusNews they had applied to the internationally funded CNLS for a CFA francs 36 million (US $73,000) grant to finance a project to tackle AIDS in Senegal's gay community and assist those of its members who are already HIV positive.

While Senegal has one of Africa's lowest HIV prevalence rates, thanks in part to efficient campaigning, testing and prevention encouraged by the government, the gay community has been sidelined from AIDS programmes since homosexual sex is technically a crime.

"We want to be able to train people and go to the homes of people living with AIDS who are suffering and who often are not informed about treatment," said a leader of the MSM movement, who asked not to be identified. "The situation is extremely serious within the community."

The source said gays in Senegal who have come out in public have been threatened and assaulted. They were particularly at risk from AIDS, since many were ignorant about how the virus is transmitted, he added.

Because of the social stigma attached to homosexuality, some members of the gay community live a double life as married men with children.

Senegal has received pledges of CFA francs 36.5 billion (US $74 million) to fight HIV-AIDS in 2005 and 2006 from the World Bank, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other international donors.

A CNLS official told IRIN that the project funding request from the MSM movement had been received and would be considered in March, along with a batch of other new community projects. "There are [the lives of] thousands of MSMs at stake," the official noted.

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

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