A group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from more than 25 African countries has demanded an urgent response to the HIV pandemic affecting their communities.

At a pre-conference held three days before the start of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) in Senegal, delegates voiced concern about various human rights violations experienced by LGBTI people in Africa and the diaspora.

These included socio-political exclusions related to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), access to adequate health services and other related issues.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) in Africa are nine times more likely to be HIV positive than their heterosexual counterparts. In Dakar, Senegal where the ICASA conference is being held, the prevalence of HIV infection among MSM is 21% versus less than 1% for the total population.

“The deliberate refusal to address the needs of men who have sex with men in Africa or anywhere in the world will never help us end the spread of AIDS,” said Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), which organised the pre-conference.

“The refusal to treat the health needs of this population blatantly defies the human rights obligations incumbent on states,” she said.

Despite the theme of this year’s ICASA, “Africa’s Response: Face the facts,” there are still few prevention programs targeting sexual minorities on the African continent.

Only seven African countries have included MSM in their national plans for AIDS prevention, and among these countries only South Africa has made the commitment to include women who have sex with women as part of its response to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

According to Fikile Vilakazi, Director of the Coalition of African Lesbians, “the gendered nature of the limited interventions seeking to address LGBTI people’s needs on the African continent aggravates the situation even further.”

More than two-thirds of African nations still explicitly criminalise same-sex conduct. The East African nation of Burundi recently passed a bill that moves the country closer to adopting a new sodomy law.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, UNAIDS, the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and other key organisations have made clear that laws against homosexuality fuel the spread of HIV.

“Same-sex practicing people have always been excluded from major African policy meetings because of homophobia,” said Joel Nana, IGLHRC’s Program Associate for Southern and West Africa, “We are invisible when serious matters such as HIV are concerned.”

Workshop participants will attend the ICASA conference, where they will submit their concerns to international donors, national organisations dealing with HIV/AIDS, and African governments, which have thus far failed to respond to the challenges of HIV/AIDS among sexual minorities.

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