Criminalisation raises HIV risk fivefold for MSM living in Africa

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Men who have sex with men (MSM) living in sub-Saharan African countries where homosexual activity is severely criminalised are at a nearly five times higher risk of having HIV when compared to countries where no criminalisation occurs, reports Aidsmap.

Those in countries where some criminalisation exists are more than twice as likely to have HIV. Additionally, MSM living in countries where there are legal barriers preventing HIV advocacy and civil service organisations from operating are also at a higher risk of HIV infection. These results were presented to the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020: Virtual) by Carrie Lyons of Johns Hopkins University.

While key populations, such as MSM, make up a small percentage of the overall population, they are at an extremely high risk of becoming infected with HIV, with estimated prevalence in sub-Saharan countries ranging from 12% to as high as 30%. Criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity presents a significant barrier for MSM when seeking out HIV prevention and treatment services. In many instances, the existence of these laws means that HIV civil society organisations cannot exist at all or they are severely constrained in terms of the services they are able to offer.

This study provides clear evidence showing that criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity is consistently associated with an increased risk for HIV among MSM in sub-Saharan African countries. This relationship is stronger in those countries with more punitive laws. Additionally, the legal barriers to the operation of civil society organisations mean that they are not able to operate where they are most needed.

Abstract (not available online)
Lyons, C: Utilising individual level data to assess the relationship between prevalent HIV infection and punitive same sex policies and legal barriers across 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. 23rd International AIDS Conference, oral abstract OAF0403, 2020.

Full Aidsmap report

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