Upsurge in Anti-Gay Laws Across Africa Threatens HIV Response


The International AIDS Society (IAS) has warned that anti-LGBTQ+ laws spreading across Africa pose a threat to efforts to end the AIDS crisis on the continent.

In a statement, the organisation expressed deep concern at the passing of a bill that further criminalises same-sex relationships in Ghana, the latest in an upsurge of anti-LGBTQ+ political acts in Africa.

Ghana’s Parliament passed the Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill on 28 February 2024. It criminalizes LGBTQ+ identities as well as people who support LGBTQ+ rights.

Namibia’s lower house of Parliament also recently passed a bill that bans same-sex marriages. And in Kenya, a bill before Parliament seeks to ban gay relationships, same-sex unions, and LGBTQ+ activities and campaigns. In all instances, the bills propose harsh prison sentences and hefty fines.

“If these bills become laws, they will set back the substantial gains made towards ending the HIV pandemic as a threat to public health and individual well-being,” said IAS President Sharon Lewin.

“This is the time for governments to be stepping up efforts to advance the HIV response, not push our efforts backwards. There is an urgent need for the governments of these countries to work with, not against, communities most vulnerable to HIV.”

In Africa, 33 of 55 countries punish gay relationships with imprisonment. In 2023 alone, six countries (Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Niger, Tanzania, and Uganda) took steps to tighten anti-gay laws, the largest number of countries pushing for these laws in recent years.

The IAS noted that some of these countries also have the highest burdens of HIV, and pointed out that anti-gay laws are associated with a higher HIV rate among men who have sex with men in Africa.

Nevertheless, the organisation lauded African countries that are taking steps to protect gay rights and, by doing so, protect progress in the HIV response.

Seychelles, Lesotho, Botswana, Gabon, and Angola have decriminalised same-sex relationships, while Cabo Verde is considering an anti-discrimination law.

“We call on the Presidents of Ghana, Namibia, and Kenya to stand against these discriminatory bills. At the IAS, we urge you to put people first and follow the science: criminalising any population fuels the HIV pandemic by excluding people from testing, treatment, and care,” said the organization.

The IAS is the world’s largest association of HIV/AIDS professionals, with 11,600 members from over 170 countries, including clinicians, people living with HIV, service providers, and policymakers.

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