Violence, Discrimination Against MSM in Africa Jeopardizing Efforts To Reduce Spread of HIV, Advocates Say
Constant and increasing violence against men who have sex with men in Africa is jeopardizing efforts to reduce the spread of HIV on the continent both within the MSM and general populations, advocates said at a meeting earlier this month in Cameroon, IRIN/AllAfrica.com reports.
At the meeting -- which was organized by the French nongovernmental organization AIDES and its partners -- advocates highlighted the vulnerability of MSM in Africa to HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that on average, HIV rates among MSM are four to five times higher than the general population, IRIN/AllAfrica.com reports. In Bamako, Mali, HIV tests administered to a few hundred MSM found that 37% were HIV-positive, according to the Mali-based group ARCAD-SIDA. According to official statistics, HIV prevalence among Mali's general population is about 1.3%, IRIN/AllAfrica.com reports. In addition, a 2005 survey conducted in Dakar, Senegal, found that 21.5% of MSM in the city were HIV-positive, compared with a prevalence estimated to be 0.7% in the general population at the time.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in its 2007 report, titled "Off the Map," said that "the vulnerability of same-sex practicing men and women [in Africa] is not due to any biological predisposition, but is the result of an interlocking set of human rights violations and social inequalities that heighten HIV risk," including the criminalization of homosexuality. According to IGLHRC, homosexuality in 38 of the 53 countries in Africa is still illegal. Steave Nemande, president of Alternatives Cameroun, said that by criminalizing homosexuality, "social homophobia is legitimized and it increases fear amongst MSM, who take further risks to live their sexual [lives] in secret." Herve Beute -- a member of Arc-en-Ciel+, an HIV/AIDS association for MSM -- said that even in countries that have no laws against homosexuality, MSM are not able to assert their rights. Beute added, "We are still fighting for (MSM to have) access to health centers."
According to IRIN/AllAfrica.com, even when MSM are aware of the risks of HIV transmission, their exclusion from the majority of health policies in Africa makes it difficult for them to obtain what they need to protect themselves from the virus. In addition, the "clandestine existence" of MSM has put them, as well as the general population, at an increased risk for HIV because many have sexual relations with women or are married, IRIN/AllAfrica.com reports. Therefore, African governments should act quickly to protect MSM in the interest of the population as a whole, advocates said at the meeting (IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 7/23).