Africa: HIV/AIDS relief affected by anti-gay laws

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Anti-gay laws in Nigeria and Uganda are discouraging people from seeking HIV health care, according to healthcare professionals there.

Thirty-seven African countries have laws that ban homosexuality. Earlier this year Nigeria and Uganda implemented harsh anti-gay laws that criminalise homosexuality. These laws are negatively affecting the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the region.

Health care workers providing resources to the gay and transgender community are finding it difficult to effectively conduct their jobs in this political and legal climate.

Voice of America (VOA) released a documentary yesterday titled ‘AIDS: Living in the Shadows,‘ which investigates HIV treatment and stigmata around the world.

Ifeanyi Orazulike, who runs a clinic for gay men and transgender people in a poor area of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, has struggled to provide care to the target community for HIV/AIDS prevention.

“The world is saying we want an HIV/AIDS-free generation. We can’t achieve that without including [health care for] men who have sex with men. We can’t achieve that without involving transgender people,” he said.

The anti-gay policies in Nigeria make people fearful of seeking medical attention. Orazulike says 15 new patients used to come to his clinic every week, now he sees four.

The health officials in Uganda and Nigeria maintain that the anti-homosexuality laws will lower the HIV infection rate.

Nigerian presidential spokesman Mike Omeria says: “Treatment for any kind of disease in Nigeria is open to all citizens irrespective of their status.

“Where the law is concerned is, when gays would go and congregate and shout that ‘we are gays and we are making love on the street,’ and all of that, then the law frowns at that. And treatment for any kind of disease in Nigeria is open to all citizens irrespective of their status.”

Despite this assurance that no one will be denied access to health care, cultural stigma is preventing HIV-positive Nigerians from seeing medical assistance.

In 2012, 3.1% of Nigeria’s population was infected with HIV, 17% of gay men were infected.

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