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Gay men seen dying from AIDS due to Africa’s homophobic laws

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By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, Oct. 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thousands of gay men in Africa are likely to die of HIV-related illness every year due to homophobic laws that impede their chances of being tested and treated, researchers said in a study published Monday. The Lancet HIV journal.

A study of data from 45,000 gay men in 28 African countries, including Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria, found that only one in four living with HIV was taking medication.

Half had been tested for HIV / AIDS in the last 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 gay men's HIV / AIDS programs. .

"We found that countries that had more repressive anti-LGBT laws or stricter same-sex penalties had lower levels of HIV testing," said Kate Mitchell, one of the researchers at Imperial College London who participated in the study. study.

"Some studies have suggested this was due to stigma. More research is needed to see if, if these laws are repealed, more gay men will be tested and treated."

According to the United Nations, about 470,000 people living with HIV in Africa still die each year because they cannot or are not tested and gain access to treatment, accounting for over 60% of all HIV-related deaths in the world.

While there is no official data on the number of deaths of men who have sex with men (MSM), Mitchell said it would be fair to estimate that thousands of gay men who were unaware or unable to obtain drugs died every year.

African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws in the world governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo, and gay sex is a crime on most of the continent, with punishments ranging from prison to death.

A 2019 report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found 32 African countries out of 54 countries that criminalize same-sex relationships. South Africa is the only African nation to legalize gay marriage.

Gay rights groups say the laws promote homophobia across the continent and are used daily to harass and discriminate against sexual minorities who face prejudice in finding employment, renting housing or seeking medical care or education.

The story goes on

Hate crimes such as blackmail, extortion, physical and sexual assault are common – but most are very afraid of going to the police because of their sexual orientation, human rights groups say.

"Globally, men who have sex with men are about 28 times more likely to live with HIV than men in the general population, an inequality that is particularly apparent in sub-Saharan Africa, where MSM human rights are often violated." said the study.

"These attitudes also create barriers to the implementation of effective HIV research, policy and health programs for MSM through the prohibition of activism and research, arbitrary detention of health care providers, and disruption of services provided by community and non-community organizations. governmental ".

LGBT + rights activists in Kenya, where gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, said they were not surprised by the results of the study.

"It is true that the law makes it very difficult for MSM to seek medical treatment. Many people fear that they will be abused or embarrassed by insensitive doctors," said Andrew Maina, program coordinator for HIVOS.

"If these anti-homosexual laws are dropped, there will be more openness, more advocacy and more awareness. Gay men living with HIV could seek medical attention knowing they will be treated with respect and dignity."

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Claire Cozens edition. Credit to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Thomson Reuters charity arm, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights and LGBT +, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. /news.trust.org)

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