State-sponsored homophobia in Africa fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic

Gug” – short for “GayUganda” – maintains an internet blog where he writes about his life, giving personal anecdotes along with scathing commentaries about Uganda’s homophobic leadership. But he keeps his identity secret.

“Being with the man I love, I risk a life sentence, to make sure that the morals of the country are not destroyed by my “immorality,” In Uganda, “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” is a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Authorities in many African nations would prefer to deny the existence of people like gug. Of 53 African countries, 38 have repressive government policies and sodomy laws that legitimize and encourage social discrimination, including unequal access to medical treatment. This condemnation drives behavior underground, away from prevention and treatment services, thus increasing the risk of HIV transmission. It is fueling the epidemic on a continent that is already home to over 60 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS.

In Africa, men who have sex with men (MSM) are nine times more vulnerable to contracting HIV than the general population, yet programs of prevention, testing, treatment and care targeting same sex practicing people are still severely limited, if they exist at all. The illegality of homosexuality discourages mainstream HIV/AIDS and human rights organization from publicly addressing the lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual (LGTB) community and makes it impossible to collect crucial data on the prevalence of the disease and the social pathways by which it spreads. “Research is the cornerstone of everything we do. It advances our knowledge, it advances our programming, and it is crucial to advancing our constitution,” Senkhu Maimane, a research project officer with OUT Africa, said. “If you have research, you have knowledge.” The lack of research on the impact of AIDS in the African MSM community was, until recently, caught in a self-reinforcing cycle.  Without the basic data needed to petition international donors for  funding, the research didn’t take place. Of 561 studies of HIV in  MSM communities in 2005, only 8 addressed same-sex transmission in Africa.

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