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Mali: Homophobia and stigmatization hamper Hiv prevention efforts

Religious practices, cultural beliefs and stigmatization by the general population hamper access to health care and HIV/Aids prevention for Malian Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM) and force them into bisexualityor underground sexual practices that put them at high risk of Sexually Transmitted and HIV infections, says Dr Dembelé Bintou Keita, Director of ARCAD/SIDA, an HIV/Aids organization that also provides health care for MSM in Mali.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

15th March 2011 06:40

Alessia Valenza

Dr Dembelé says with over 95% of the population that is religious, the Malian society is not tolerant to MSM who “have no rights and certainly no right to claim their sexual orientation. All cultural beliefs towards MSM are negative.”

She explained, “On a social level, the abuses start in the family. Men who are attracted to other men are forced to get married so that they will not bring shame to the family. The society and the family force them to do what is socially acceptable, so they get married but they still have men as sexual partners.”

According to Dembelé, more than 50% of MSM in Mali are married to women but have sexual practices on the sly with casual male partners , most of the time without protection, and “if they contract STD or HIV infections, they are scared or ashamed to go to a doctor for fear to reveal their bisexual sexual orientation.”

In 2004 a survey conducted by UNAIDS on the situation of MSM in Mali revealed that HIV prevalence was higher among MSM than the general population.

Aware of the needs of this community ARCAD/SIDA, which promotes respect for people rights and the right to health care services and HIV/Aids prevention and protection for all, regardless of the sexual orientation, started its first interventions within this community in 2005.

Over the years ARCAD/SIDA has been actively involved in the MSM community, visiting clubs and places where MSM meet at night to identify them and distribute protection kits, condoms and lubricants.

They also organize HIV/Aids and STI awareness meetings counselling and testing also offering STD and HIV health care, psychological support for seropositive MSM and training for MSM peer educators.

However, the homophobic and religious environment, the small number of MSM going to health care structures, and the stigmatisation of ARCAD/SIDA seem to impact significantly on the organization’s ability to deliver services at an optimal level.

ARCAD/SIDA is an HIV/Aids organization that was created in September 1994. Its main objective is to develop a global health care of HIV infection through research and communication.

The organization works with people affected by HIV and their relatives in order to provide health care support.

They offer prevention and health care services for at risk population such as sex workers, MSM, disabled people and prisoners.