1er mars 2007 - NEW YORK (AFP) - Discrimination against gays in Africa is fueling the HIV/AIDS epidemic on that continent, according to a report released Thursday by a rights group that called for urgent action to address the issue.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a non-profit US-based organization, said that African governments as well as the Bush administration and European governments must break the wall of silence that surrounds AIDS and same sex practices in Africa or face responsibility for the spread of the disease.
"Despite increasing evidence of the need for HIV-related interventions for same-sex practicing people, there are scarcely more than a handful of formal HIV prevention, testing, treatment, or care programs targeting men who have sex with men in Africa and even fewer for same-sex practicing women," the report says.
"Without immediate attention to this human right crisis, efforts to effectively combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa may be seriously challenged,"
Cary Alan Johnson, senior specialist for Africa at the IGLHRC, said although some African countries, such as Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya, have made efforts to tackle the problem, these same countries maintain laws that target homosexuals and lesbians.
"If anything is increasingly the vulnerability of gay men in Africa with HIV, it is sodomy laws that prevent people from speaking honestly about who they are and that push people further away from HIV prevention services,"
Johnson told AFP.
He said the Bush administration was contributing to the stigmatization of gays in Africa as many of the organizations funded by the US government were faith-based and blatantly homophobic.
"Faith-based organizations have done some wonderful work in Africa but by definition a lot of their religious doctrine is homophobic," Johnson said.
"So they can’t be made to respond to the needs of gay and lesbian people in the field."
The 125-page report entitled "Off the Map" lists a number of examples in which African gays and lesbians have been denied treatment or ridiculed, sometimes by foreign-funded organizations, because of their sexual orientation.
It calls on African governments to repeal laws that discriminate against gays, to boost funding for programs specifically targeting homosexuals and to train health professionals so that gays and lesbians no longer face discrimination when seeking medical care.
It also urges the United States in particular and foreign donors in general to help create programs aimed at assisting gays in Africa.
"We know that if these things don’t happen, the entire effort to fight HIV in Africa is going to be sabotaged," Johnson said.
With slightly more than 10 percent of the world’s population, Africa is home to 60 percent, or more than 25 million people, living with HIV/AIDS.
Though there are no firm statistics, it is estimated that gay people make up between three and 10 percent of the population in Africa, Johnson said.