Monday, January 04, 2010

The stigma of having HIV in Senegal

Social stigma prevents many HIV positive Senegalese from getting live saving drugs. The stigma of homosexuality or for even straight people with HIV forces them into hiding. So much so that AIDS drug distribution programs are unable to reach them. Several violent acts have happened in Senegal lately to reinforce the stigma.

From this CamWest News Service article, writer Peter O'Neil cites a new Pew survey on attitudes in Senegal.

Dr. Bara Ndiaye, project leader for the non-governmental organization Enda-Sante, said anti-AIDS initiatives led by government and non-government organizations are often viewed suspiciously.

"This society is very hostile toward homosexuals," said Ndiaye, whose organization works closely with MSM and sex workers on issues like safe sex, testing, treatment and nutrition.

"They assume it is promoting homosexuality."

Some Senegalese claim there had historically been a modest level of tolerance for sexual minorities in this former French colony, but a 2007 Pew Research Centre poll of 700 Senegalese respondents found that 97 per cent believed homosexuality "should be rejected" by society.

The poll had an error margin of four per cent, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Pew organization.

National and international health organizations desperately need to reach out to these groups to ensure they don't spread HIV to sex partners, or in the case of mothers to their children during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, according to Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the $18.7-billion U.S. Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

He said social stigmatization represents the second-biggest barrier facing national and international bodies waging a multibillion-dollar battle against AIDS, a crisis that has been overtaken in the media by the global financial collapse, war, climate change and the H1N1 flu pandemic.

It is next only to weak government health-care systems in recipient countries, said Kazatchkine, whose organization funds Enda-Sante, Xam Xamle and Karlene.

"These people, because they're harassed, will hide," Kazatchkine told Canwest News Service.

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