470,000 Gay Men with HIV Die Annually Due to Homophobic Laws in Africa

A new study published in The Lancet HIV journal reveals that gay men in Africa are probably dying in their thousands due to homophobic laws that prevent access to treatments and medications. Research involving 45,000 gays in Nigeria, Kenya, and Malawi among other 25 African countries found that one in four gay men with HIV infection had access to drugs.

The stigma and discrimination associated with being gay even prevent most LGBTQ individuals from going for HIV/AIDS tests. They also lose out on HIV/AIDS programmes designed for only gay men.

Kate Mitchell, one of the researchers at Imperial College London, said LGBTQs in countries with harsher laws and penalties for gay do not often go for HIV tests. Since the fear of punishment and stigma associated with same-sex relationships prevent gays from going for HIV tests, it is unclear whether more gays will go for tests once the homophobic laws are repealed.

However, the researchers found that many men who have sex with men (MSM) die annually due to a lack of access to drugs. Since being gay or being lesbian is considered taboo and attracts ostracism, imprisonment or death among other severe punishments in several African countries, people of the LGBTQ community continue to suffer from HIV/AIDS and untimely deaths.

Although South Africa legalizes same-sex marriage, 32 of the 54 African countries criminalize same-sex relationships. This has made it difficult for gays to identify themselves openly, leading to difficulty in renting housing, obtaining medical care, getting jobs and even proper education. Others suffer threats of death and physical assault because they publicize their sexual orientations.

“Globally, men who have sex with men are about 28 times more likely to be living with HIV than men in the general population, an inequality that is particularly apparent in sub-Saharan Africa, where the human rights of MSM are often violated,” the latest report stated. “If these anti-gay laws are scrapped, there will be more openness, more advocacy and more awareness of the issue. Gay men living with HIV would be able to seek medical care knowing they will be treated with respect and dignity.”

Once the homophobic laws are removed in Africa, it is hoped that there will be advancement with HIV research, policy and health programmes for MSM, greater access to HIV/AIDS drugs, and better inclusion and acceptance for education, employment and housing among other state benefits.

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