A research study conducted in Abuja, Nigeria by The Centre for the Right to Health (CRH) has shown that the MSM population has contributed to the national prevalence of HIV/AIDS in that country, a factor that has long been overlooked according to the center.
The CRH research discovered that “majority of the respondents had sex without condoms and didn’t feel the need to use such and more than half of the respondents had lost a partner or friend as a result of HIV/AIDS.”
“Discrimination and ignorance from society is a major factor, and makes it difficult for MSM’s to seek service as seeking they are scared of being discriminated against which explains the high prevalence of AIDS amongst MSMs”, said Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulika, Executive Director of Alliance Rights Nigeria.
“The fact that homosexuality is widely ignored in Nigeria is having a negative impact on the spread of AIDS in the country”, revealed CRH.
CRH mentioned that finding participants for the study proved intricate as many MSM were not out therefore not easily identifiable but Orazulika said these result paints a clear picture of the current pandemic.
“The research is very much true and depicts the truth about the pandemic and I participated in the research myself”, said Orazulika.
Orazulika said the HIV/AIDS prevalence amongst MSMs in the city of Abuja stands at 13.5 and 25 percent nationally a figure which he declared as high.
CRH further highlighted that results which came from the research showed that the MSM community lacked useful information on sexual reproductive health and access to HIV integrated services.
With the dubbed draconian, Same Gender Prohibition Bill still pending and with the government remaining mum about passing it into law, amongst other things, speculation is that these could be attributed to the lack of visibility amongst the MSM population.
Nessa Dennis, a human rights defender from Nigeria rubbished such claims, adding “personally, and as an LGBTI community member and also as one of the team member that was present at the public hearing on the Same Gender Prohibition Bill, I would say that the MSM/LGBTI community is very visible. There are many incidents that made national news concerning unlawful arrests and torture and violation of LGBTI rights that prove that LGBTI/ MSMs exist in Nigeria.”
“The LGBTI community is underground right now, holding monthly meetings to give support to each other. The community is not safe therefore they are trying to be invisible so as not to spark up controversies that might speed up the passing of the Same Gender Prohibition Bill”, she said.
To conduct this research CRH received funding support from The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) the drivers behind the MSM Initiative, which seeks to “support and empower grassroots MSM organisations, build understanding and awareness of HIV epidemics among MSM, and advocate for effective policies and increased funding.”
“A dire need for services providing MSM specific information on HIV transmission and prevention and health care services aimed at impact mitigation is thus urgently required”, suggested the CRH.
Echoing the same sentiments, Program Development Officer at CRH, Abimbola Onigbanjo at a recent stakeholders meeting held in October said, “Homosexuality remains criminalised in over 80 member states of the United Nations, including Nigeria. And with the recent trial and sentencing of gay men and other men who have sex with men in Senegal, these laws continue to be enforced”, she said.
The LGBTI community hasn’t yet thrown the towel with regards to accessing services as there is seemingly commitment from local NGOs towards MSMs in Nigeria.
“I think organisations like, FHI, Population Council, SFH, partnering with smaller organisations like ARN, MAN and TIP, are already working towards reaching MSMs by organising peer education trainings, workshops and seminars to educate on the proper use of condom and the dangers of multi partnering”, said Dennis.
Human Rights activist, Leo Igwe of Nigeria, said “there is a need for public education and reorientation to correct so many erroneous views about LGBTI’s. We should not wait for the bill to be sent to the parliament before doing something. There is a need for a human rights approach to LGBTI issues. Encourage and support religious groups that welcome homosexuals”,
“The state and the entire society should treat them with dignity and respect. Decriminalize homosexuality and stop treating MSMs as criminals and social outcasts, the gay witch hunt must be stopped”, added Igwe
Meanwhile different NGOs, The Independent Project for Equal Rights (TIP), Youth Are Taking (YAT), Leaders with New Dimensions (LEND) and Gbagyi Child in Nigeria are partnering to on World AIDS Day, 01 December 2009, to campaign against stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/ AIDS, MSMs, Female Sex Work, Injection Drug User and Young People, the campaign is themed “working together against HIV stigma and discrimination.”
Alliance Rights Nigeria is a citizens based NGO founded 1999 to promote and defend the interests and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens of Nigeria through the eradication of various forms of persecutions, violence, stigma and discrimination.