Alice Nkom: Preventing gay Cameroonians from accessing HIV care violates their human rights

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Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom says her country will never get on top of its HIV epidemic if it continues to prevent gay citizens from accessing healthcare through repressive laws.

The campaigner told PinkNews it was a “key issue” in Cameroon because “you violate the human rights of people to access health, medicines and treatment”.

“When you see the situation of gay people in Cameroon it’s a place where HIV is still increasing,” Ms Nkom continued.

“Even doctors are tempted to denounce people who (are gay)”.

The country’s homophobic laws “are very very dangerous for the gay community,” Ms Nkom warned.

“You have bisexual people; you have gay people who try to hide their orientation by trying to have a girlfriend, trying to have kids to make sure they will be forgotten in terms of repression and rejection which is not good.”

Antiretroviral treatment (ART) coverage among men who have sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSW) in Cameroon is extremely low. Only 25 percent of MSM living with HIV are on treatment

When asked why several countries in Africa had strengthened their laws against homosexuality in recent years, Ms Nkom replied: “I think we don’t do enough in terms of education and information for people, you see countries like mine are just coming out of dictatorship where we had only one party. We had no chance of an alternative”.

“We must try to increase the universality of human rights,” she said. “Everybody gets protections from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Charter can’t allow a leader of a country to minimise human rights.

“You can’t be a member of the UN and violate human rights in your country. It is not normal.”

Ms Nkom concluded: “We must use mass media to spread love to spread universal values. The most important law is universal law.”

The lawyer has faced death threats for her support for gay rights in Cameroon.

The 70-year-old lawyer became the first black woman to be called to the bar in Cameroon in 1969.

She vowed to continue her work despite being sent death threats and warnings from government officials that she could face imprisonment.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Cameroon with custodial sentences of up to five years imprisonment.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 28 people in Cameroon have been charged under the country’s anti-gay laws in the past four years – more than any other African nation.