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Countries that persecute queer men are driving up HIV rates, study finds

Josh Milton July 26, 2020

(Stock photograph via Pexels)

Queer men are more likely to be living with HIV in African countries that criminalise gay sex than those that do not, researchers have said.

Johns Hopkins University researchers found that men who have sex with men (MSM) in sub-Saharan African nations where gay sex with is severely criminalised are at up to five times higher risk of having HIV, aidsmap reported. In countries where some legal barriers or persecutions exist, they are twice as likely.

Legal and social change for LGBT+ people in the continent has, for the most part, been spotty and slow. Some African nations have spearheaded pro-LGBT+ bills or decriminalised gay sex altogether. Others remain sluggish, choosing to uphold anti-gay laws or moving to persecute queer folk even further.

A leading HIV activist told PinkNews that some lawmakers are exploiting efforts to reduce transmission rates in order to pass anti-LGBT+ laws – and that this study disproves these thinly-veiled tactics.

Nigeria and Gambia men who have sex with men are nearly five times likely to live with HIV. 

The study, conducted from 2011 to 2018, saw researchers collect data on MSM living in ten sub-Saharan countries, dividing them into three categories of criminalisation.

Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Rwanda – which do not criminalise gay sex – found that eight per cent of men who were surveyed live with HIV.

Around two in ten men living in Cameroon, Senegal, Togo and eSwatini, where penal codes carry less than eight years in jail, live with HIV.

Investigators considered Gambia and Nigeria as “severe criminalisation”, enforcing life imprisonment and capital punishment respectively. In both countries, participants were 4.65 times more likely to have HIV.

“Decriminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual practices is necessary to optimise HIV prevention efforts and ultimately address the HIV epidemic,” senior researcher Carrie Lyons concluded.

Matthew Hodson, executive director of British charity NAM aidsmap, stressed to PinkNews the extent that anti-LGBT+ laws snarl the efforts of HIV advocates and healthcare leaders seeking to extinguish acquisition rates.

“Preventing the transmission of HIV and other STIs is sometimes used to as cover to introduce or retain homophobic laws,” Hodson said.

“This report quantifies the increased risk of HIV acquisition in countries that criminalise homosexuality and demonstrates the relationship between severe penalties for same-sex sexual behaviour and higher prevalence of HIV.

“Homophobia creates barriers to appropriate sexual health information and advice, it prevents people from testing and from accessing HIV treatment, which not only saves lives but also halts onwards transmission.

“We will not end HIV without ensuring the rights and dignity of LGBT people are respected.”

More: Africa, AIDS, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, eswatini, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, HIV, HIV/AIDS, Nigeria, Rwanda, senegal, Togo

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