Advocates at ICASA Conference Address Sexual Minorities, Funding Shortfalls in Africa
Gay, lesbian and transgender advocates took "center stage" on Thursday at the 15th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa -- which ended on Sunday in Dakar, Senegal -- AFP/Africasia.com reports. It was the first time that an ICASA conference focused on issues specific to sexual minorities on the continent, AFP/Africasia.com reports. Joel Nana -- program associate for Southern and West Africa at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission -- said, "Homophobia fuels the spread of AIDS. In Africa, mainstream HIV/AIDS and human rights organizations do not want to address the issue mainly because homosexuality is still illegal in most countries." AFP/Africasia.com reports that 38 out of 53 countries in Africa have criminalized consensual same-sex relations. In addition, identifying people as "gay or lesbian is very sensitive," and many nongovernmental organizations at ICASA "prefer to speak about men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women."
According to Boris Dittrich -- advocacy director of Human Rights Watch's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Program -- there are "many men [in Africa] that have sex with men but are married and do not identify as gay." He added, "There is research that shows that vulnerable groups like [MSM], sex workers and [injection] drug users are not being reached because their behavior is criminalized." Nana cited additional research that showed MSM in Africa are nine times more vulnerable to HIV than the general population. Advocates warned that the challenge of addressing these vulnerable groups is "a long uphill battle," AFP/Africasia.com reports. According to a spokesperson for Africagay -- an umbrella organization of 18 associations in 10 African countries -- there has been progress but "not yet on a large scale." The spokesperson said that Africagay was established in October 2007 "to be stronger and change mentalities because the issue (of gays) is not included in the prevention and treatment" of HIV/AIDS.
AFP/Africasia.com reports that obtaining figures on the number of people living with HIV/AIDS who engage in same-sex relations is nearly impossible. Senegal is "an example of the ambiguity surrounding gays and HIV/AIDS prevention," as it is one of seven West African countries that targets MSM in its HIV prevention efforts but also criminalizes same-sex relations, according to AFP/Africasia.com. Stephanie Simonpietri of the French organization AIDES said, "The HIV issue has revealed the gay issue" in Africa (Van den Berg, AFP/Africasia.com, 12/4).
Also on Thursday, outgoing UNAIDS director Peter Piot said that although efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa have seen some success, the global recession could diminish funding, Xinhuanet reports. "We have arrived at a new phase in a long and difficult fight against AIDS. The investments begin to bear their fruits," he said, adding that Africa also faces a "critical time" with "new waves in infections" surfacing.
Piot said that the global financial crisis could make it more difficult for the world to support HIV/AIDS efforts and stressed the need for a "country by country" revaluation of resources and needs. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade during the conference proposed that a majority of efforts be directed at prevention. Jeanne Gapiya -- an HIV-positive representative at the conference -- said that financial resources allocated to Africa's efforts to curb HIV/AIDS fall short of what's necessary to cover the needs of vulnerable communities (Xinhuanet, 12/4).
Piot also said that there is no "magic bullet" in efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, AFP/Independent Online reports. He said, "There is a normal human tendency to look for the magic bullet, but my friends, it doesn't exist. ... Even the day we have a vaccine -- and I hope we will have it -- we will still need many things." According to Piot, Africa is the "perfect storm of small differences." He continued, "The agenda for the immediate future is clear: we need more of the same," including access to treatment and prevention. Piot also said that the "need and the capacity to use the money will continue to grow in Africa over the years for a while, and it will continue to grow until we are highly successful with HIV prevention" (AFP/Independent Online, 12/4).
A coalition of nongovernmental organizations at the conference Saturday urged donors to honor their commitments to the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, especially in light of the Global Fund 10% reduction in funding during its last round of grants, Agence France-Presse reports. Agence France-Presse reports that if donors do not commit to more funding in the next phase, there could be a 25% reduction in spending, which Peter Bujari of the Tanzania Health and Development Trust said would be "disastrous." Bujari estimated that a 25% funding cut would mean that 341,000 people would be denied HIV tests in Tanzania in 2013 "because of a lack of commodities and products for testing." Sam Kapembwa of the Zambian National AIDS Network said, "Our cry is: if money can be found to solve the credit crunch, if money can be found to save companies manufacturing toys for rich people (and) manufacturing cars, surely money can be found to fund HIV/AIDS in full," adding, "Any reduction would mean an increase in people who do not have access to drugs" (Agence France-Presse, 12/6).
Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine dismissed the warning from the NGOs on Saturday and said he is "cautiously optimistic" that there will be no large funding reductions because of the global financial crisis, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. He added, "In my discussions with leaders up to now, I have not heard of any donor that is not ready to honor their commitments to the Global Fund. If the replenishment (of the fund) allows it, we will cut on the cut. The 25% could become 10%, or 5% or even zero. The cut is not a final irreversible decision." Kazatchkine said that he has not heard of any donors who plan to increase their donations but that Western governments acknowledge the importance of healthy populations to overall economic stability (AFP/Yahoo! News, 12/6).