Togo Cameroon direct

The HIV retrovirus.AIDS fighters have long recognized that the goal of halting the spread of HIV cannot be achieved without making extra efforts to reach high-risk groups, including gay men.

But often that realization has led to nothing beyond words on paper.

National anti-AIDS plans too often do nothing beyond listing the country’s most-at-risk populations, with little or no follow-up to ensure that high-risk people — many of them social outcasts — are actually served instead of being ignored.

The examples of two African countries — Cameroon and Togo — show how poorly the system works for gays and other men who have sex with men (MSM).

Carte du Togo (Wikipedia Commons)Because they are neglected and shunned, a disproportionately high number of gay men and other MSM are dead or dying because of HIV/AIDS, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is true even though, a few years ago, UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) identified several key populations including gay men and other MSM, transsexuals and sex workers, as deserving of strong targeted prevention programs and equitable access to medical services if the pandemic were ever to be brought under control. The Global Fund (Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria), which finances most AIDS prevention programs in poor countries, accepted this analysis and agreed to provide funds for programs to these key populations on a priority basis.

On paper, countries seem to be coming around to including key populations in their national HIV/AIDS plans and funding proposals. But not so at the next level, where Global Fund grants often are implemented by a non-governmental organization (NGO) designated as a Principal Recipient.Cameroon Map (courtesy Wikipedia) Although this method of routing the money through an NGO allows governments to avoid directly funding stigmatized groups, in Cameroon and Togo the targeted key population groups still receive almost no substantial prevention funds or funding for access to needed medical services.

Togo

A small sub-Saharan country in Western Africa of about 7 million people, Togo is sandwiched between Ghana and Benin. In this French-speaking country, homosexual acts are punishable by up to three years in prison and fines of up to about US $1, 000. The Togo government reported an HIV prevalence rate of 6.9% for gays and MSM, compared to 2.9% for the general population.

On paper, Togo has an HIV prevention program for gay men that includes free distribution of condoms and lubricant. In reality, it doesn’t.

Un panier de condoms (photo de cbc-ca) global fund logo
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