Douglas is a community outreach worker. He is gay and living in Mombasa, Kenya. His comments reflect a sadly familiar story across Africa and around the world.
‘Men who have sex with men face a lot of challenges,’ explains Douglas. ‘They are rejected by their families and when they’re found out they’re banished from their homes, they end up living on the streets and have to sell sex to get money.
‘Having sex between men is taboo. People don’t want to accept us. They call us terrible names but I’m used to the insults now,’ he says resignedly.
This World AIDS Day is highlighting the need to acknowledge the human rights of those most at risk of HIV.
Nowhere is this risk higher than among men who have sex with men. Across Africa homosexual behaviour is outlawed and there is a denial that men who have sex with men even exist in the population - and if you don’t exist then you can’t get the public health care that you need and you can’t protect yourself from HIV.
There are 1.1 million people living with HIV in Kenya and every year another 166,000 new infections. It’s the most vulnerable groups who are at the highest risk of infection, like gay men.
‘Most people really don’t know that men who have sex with other men are at high risk of HIV…. When I pass information on to them about HIV, most people are really very shocked. They then want to go and get tested because they’ve had sex,’ said Douglas.
Douglas is a courageous man. Many community outreach workers who work with men who have sex with men are risking their lives in some cases. Despite the insults and the violence he continues to reach out to men in his community to make sure they are informed about HIV.
Alan Ragi is the executive director of KANCO, a partner of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. They work with over 900 community organisations across Kenya.
‘This situation is appalling. The Kenyan government have recognised the need to reach men who have sex with men but because of fear, stigma, discrimination and prosecution for homosexual behaviour, lives are at risk.
‘The test of a nation’s greatness is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. We need to make sure that the human rights of the most marginalised are respected. This World AIDS Day brings a timely reminder to our leaders that men who have sex with men are still citizens of our society and must be afforded the same dignity and right to protect their health,’ he said.
Responding to the HIV-related needs of MSM in Africa
We have produced a workshop guide for facilitating a consultation with stakeholders on responding to the HIV-related needs of men who have sex with men in Africa. Find out more.
They call us terrible names but I’m used to the insults now