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Homophobia is Fueling the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Africa

by Judy Bokao

Every day, are there hundreds of gay men in Africa dying from HIV-related illnesses due to homophobic laws that makes it difficult for them to be tested and treated. According to the Lancet HiV Journal published in 2019, a study of the data of 45,000 gay men in 28 African countries including Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria found only one in four living with HIV were taking medication.

According to the research, only half had taken an HIV/AIDS test in the past 12 months and researchers said the low rates were due to anti-LGBT laws in many African countries, which promoted stigma and discrimination and neglected HIV/AIDS programs targeting gay men.“We found countries that had extremely prohibitive anti-LGBT laws or harsher penalties for same-sex relations had lower levels of HIV testing.” Some of the studies suggested that this was owed to stigma. However, more research is needed to see whether, if these laws were abolished, more gay men would be tested and treated.”

According to the United Nations, about 470,000 people living with HIV in Africa still die yearly because they cannot or do not get tested and gain access to treatment, accounting for more than 60% of all global HIV-related deaths. While there are no official figures on the number of deaths of men who have sex with men (MSM), it still would be fair to estimate that thousands of gay men who were unaware or unable to get medication were dying annually.

African countries have some of the world’s most repressive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a serious crime across most countries in the continent, with punishments varying from imprisonment to death sentences. A 2019 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found 32 African countries out of a total of 54 nations criminalize same-sex relations. South Africa is the only African nation to legalize gay marriage.

In most of these African countries , there are very little research done to help create awareness and combat the stigma that comes with being gay and living with HIV. A study in South Africa showed that South African men who were open about their sexuality and HIV status experienced greater social discrimination resulting from being HIV-positive, including loss of job or places to stay. On the other hand, heterosexual men seemed to have more supportive experiences, with 74% of them having had talked to a friend about AIDS compared to 58% of their MSM counterparts.

Cases of such stigma in turn led to gay HIV-positive men experiencing a considerable amount of internalised grief. Internalised feelings of shame and guilt also have an adverse effect on the health status of the person living with HIV; so too can the level of social support provided also have an impact on their health status. In most cases, even though HIV/AIDS is manageable, it still takes a huge toll on the African gay men who have no support system and feel the stigma and also have a hard time getting medication.

African governments have been adamant on their stand against homosexuality and refuse to help or make it safe to carry out studies which are urgently required to provide more accurate estimates of levels of status awareness, engagement in care, treatment coverage and viral suppression among African-based men who have sex with men to improve access to these vital and lifesaving services. Unless a change is made more African men will continue to die from HIV/AIDS in silence.

About the Author:

Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.



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