“Loud silence” haunts halfway measures to fight HIV among gay men in Africa



By Miles Rutendo Tanhira

African LGBT rights activists are outraged at a delegation of health ministers from across the African Union (AU) for excluding MSM (men who have sex with men) and gay men from the agenda during discussions on HIV/AIDS at a recent regional conference.

“Ignoring a problem does not mean that it will disappear,” an Ethiopian LGBT rights activist told 429Magazine on the condition of anonymity.

The conference, held at African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week focused on the non-communicable diseases and neglected tropical diseases and development in Africa. A variety of health officials, civil society members, and United Nations representatives attended.

Calling it a missed opportunity to engage on LGBT and HIV issues in restrictive Ethiopia, the activist explained: “if this issue had been talked about here in Ethiopia during this conference, it would have opened doors for us, we would find it easy to engage with our Health Ministry on MSM inclusion in national HIV/AIDS programming.”

Denis Nzioka, a leading gay rights activist in Kenya and editor of the Identity Kenya blog said: “The AU health ministers have made a mistake not to address or even highlight this issue. A recent study indicates that most African governments do not adequately address men who have sex with men in their national strategic plans for combating HIV/AIDS.”

“I also fault the organizers since they have exhibited little knowledge of HIV disease dynamics among MSM and little knowledge of the social dynamics behind MSM’s HIV risk and especially in relation to the general (or what they prefer to think, ‘straight’ population,’” lamented Kenya’s Nzioka.

Rowland Jide Macaulay, of House Of Rainbow Fellowship Nigeria, framed the exclusion of these discussions from the comments in the context of the ongoing fight for LGBT rights on the continent: “the continuous denial of African statesmen and society on the inclusive human rights for gay and lesbian citizens including issues of homosexuality frustrate the ability for members of these communities to come forward for inclusion.”

“For any conference on sexual health in Africa for Africans to alienate sexual minorities particularly MSM, gay men, and sex workers is a detriment to the ability of African governments to carry out efficient sexual health for these communities,” he said.

African recognition of MSM and gay men in the fight against HIV has come part way.Through an analysis of AIDS National Strategic Plans (NSPs), a December 2012 UNAIDS study investigated the responses of African governments to the HIV epidemics faced by men who have sex with men (MSM). National Strategic Plans from 46 African countries were systematically analysed, with attention focused on the representation of MSM and their HIV risk, the inclusion of epidemiologic information on the HIV epidemic among MSM and government-led interventions addressing MSM. Out of 46 NSPs, 34 mentioned MSM. Two-thirds of countries acknowledged the vulnerability of MSM to HIV infection, but fewer than half acknowledged the role of stigma or criminalization. 

Malawian LGBT rights activist, Solum Mtogolo, said: ‘”If silence remains too loud to speak about it we are apparently squeezing such practices into high risks because they go without premonition. We can’t be.”



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