Though Senegal's HIV rate of less than 1 percent is among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, vulnerabilities remain in this majority-Muslim country. Some 22 percent of Senegalese men who have sex with men (MSM) are HIV-positive. And the country's prisons are a high-risk environment for HIV transmission due to the prevalence of drugs, violence, and sexual activity.
At the Camp Penal maximum-security prison in Dakar, harm-reduction strategies like needle exchange and condom distribution are non-existent. Alassane Balde, the prison's chief of medical staff, said that is because they are not needed. "Our religion doesn't permit this," he said. "There is no tolerance for this type of behavior. It's a taboo subject, and we don't even talk about it."
Amadou (not his real name), a prominent gay AIDS activist, served two months at Camp Penal. He was arrested in December 2008, along with eight others, for allegedly "engaging in homosexual acts." Amadou was sentenced to eight years in prison, but the case was overturned when international aid groups intervened. "Everyone knows, whether we admit it or not, that there are sexual relations among men in prisons," he said.
Amadou recently spoke with a group of 150 inmates at Camp Penal. "I know your realities," he told the men. "Today I'm here to talk to you about AIDS. What it is, how we catch it, and how to prevent it."
Amadou sees hope in a large-scale voluntary HIV testing program planned for Camp Penal in the coming months. "If MSM are promoting these types of prevention activities for the health of the whole community, they must be saluted and encouraged," he said. "This work is not for ourselves, but for everyone. But how many people dare to send out that message? Because this is really what we need."
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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