- A group of homosexual activist groups from more than 25 African countries has united, demanding an urgent response to the HIV pandemic affecting their communities. In some countries, the HIV prevalence among gays is more than 20 times higher than among the population average.
At a pre-conference held three days before the start of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), delegates voiced concern about various human rights violations experienced by sexual minorities in Africa and the Diaspora. These included socio-political exclusions related to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, access to adequate health services and other related issues.
Men who have sex with men in Africa are nine times more likely to be HIV positive than their heterosexual counterparts, according to updated statistics. In Dakar, Senegal, where the ICASA conference is being held, the prevalence of HIV infection among gay men is 21 percent compared to less than 1 percent for the total population.
"The deliberate refusal to address the needs of men who have sex with men in Africa or anywhere in the world will never help us end the spread of AIDS," said Paula Ettelbrick, leader of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), which organised the pre-conference. "The refusal to treat the health needs of this population blatantly defies the human rights obligations incumbent on states," she added.
Despite the theme of this year's ICASA, "Africa's Response: Face the facts," there are still few prevention programmes targeting sexual minorities on the African continent. Only seven African countries have included gay men in their national plans for AIDS prevention, and among these countries only South Africa has made the commitment to include women who have sex with women as part of its response to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
According to Fikile Vilakazi, Director of the Coalition of African Lesbians, "the gendered nature of the limited interventions seeking to address [lesbian and gay] people's needs on the African continent aggravates the situation even further."
More than two-thirds of African nations still explicitly criminalise same-sex conduct. The East African nation of Burundi recently passed a bill that moves the country closer to adopting a new sodomy law. The UNs Human Rights Committee, UNAIDS, the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and other key organisations however have issued clear warnings that laws against homosexuality fuel the spread of HIV.
"Same-sex practicing people have always been excluded from major African policy meetings because of homophobia," said Joel Nana, IGLHRC's Programme Associate for Southern and West Africa. "We are invisible when serious matters such as HIV are concerned," he added.
The workshop participants are to attend the ICASA conference, where they plan to submit their concerns to international donors, national organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS, and African governments, which they say "have thus far failed to respond to the challenges of HIV/AIDS among sexual minorities."
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