February 22, 2007
Legal discrimination is exacerbating the AIDS epidemic among homosexual Senegalese men, who have an HIV rate 10 times that of the general population. Being gay in Senegal is considered a moral crime punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $3,000 fine. HIV prevention work among gays requires contact with a mostly hidden community.
"Since homosexuals are a hidden group, it is difficult to treat them, and it makes it difficult to manage their treatment because they may not want to get tested or to come for their test results," said Abdou Houdia Diop, a doctor at a public STD clinic. Almost all his gay patients are bisexual, often because of societal pressure.
"The life of a homosexual man in Senegal is difficult because he is always forced to hide his identity, his needs," said Serif, a 28-year-old outreach worker who is gay. "He lives in perpetual fear, in hiding from his family, his colleagues, even health centers. If I were to make known that I am homosexual, I risk being physically attacked. It has already happened."
"Some men come in with anal problems, but they do not want to be open because they fear that a doctor will make the correlation between their condition and their sexual practice," said Diop. "But health professionals are here to treat them for whatever [STD] they may have, and their partner, to prevent a chain of infection."
Senegal's STD director, Abdoulaye Sidibe Wade, estimates the 2,000 gay men his division treats are only a fraction of the actual gay population, since most do not seek HIV services.