Homosexuals and AIDS: Confronting a dangerous African taboo

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The internationally acclaimed medical journal The Lancet Monday published the first scientific study showing that male homosexuals are more often than not infected with HIV than the general adult population in sub-Saharan Africa. With their presence in the African society sometimes denied and sometimes ostracized by society, these men are forgotten during HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns.

A British study has shown that gay men are more affected by the AIDS virus than the general adult population. Monday, the British medical journal The Lancet published a report entitled “Men who have sex with men and HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.” The study was conducted by researchers from Oxford University, under the supervision of Dr. Adrian D. Smith. The researchers examined all available AIDS related studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa to analyze the spread of the virus among gay men in Africa. Only fourteen of 118 studies used evoked male homosexuality.

Contrary to the United States and Europe where special attention is given to the prevention and treatment of AIDS among homosexuals, the African continent has long overlooked the importance of Homosexuals in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Results vary from one country to another. In some regions, gay men are ten times more affected with HIV/AIDS than the general adult population. According to the study, this phenomenon can be explained by the lack of knowledge on how HIV is transmitted.

When prevention campaigns began in the 80’s, emphasis was only placed on sexual transmission from man to woman and contamination at birth. Oral and anal sex are often not regarded as sexual practices as they do not lead to reproduction. Unaware of their risky sexual practices, many do not believe that protection is necessary. Intravenous drug use was also ignored by prevention campaigns. The impact of contamination among homosexuals is high considering that gay men sometimes have several partners. On a continent where marriage is mostly an obligation, some homosexuals get married to women, thus contributing, in some cases, to the spread of the virus without being aware.

Homosexuals excommunicated in most African countries

Gays who display their sexual orientation often face rejection from their families, public humiliation or even mockery from some medical staff. In 31 sub-Saharan African countries, homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by death in four of them. It is therefore difficult to reach these populations for prevention campaigns or provide care.

Only last January, Senegalese authorities sentenced nine homosexual activists in the fight against AIDS to eight years imprisonment because of their sexual preference. They were accused of “indecent acts and acts against nature.” Human Rights Watch, an association for the defense of human rights, expressed their concerns: these convictions drive homosexuals further underground and hinder their access to the care they need. It may also hamper the militants who are fighting against AIDS or even scientists because of the fear of being victimised, i.e; discriminated against or abused.

During the early research on HIV in the 80’s, gays hid their sexuality, making it difficult to study their case. But recent anthropological studies have shown that homosexuality exists in every facet of the African society. With these reports, an improvement in the fight against AIDS among gay men in Africa is expected, despite an all too difficult record. The report recommends adapting campaigns from the United States or Europe to the gay populations in Africa to help stem the HIV/AIDS scourge.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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