NAIROBI — Thousands of gay men in Africa are likely dying from HIV-related illnesses every year due to homophobic laws that stifle their chances of being tested and treated, said researchers behind a study published on Monday in The Lancet HIV journal, reported on by Reuters.
A study of the data of 45,000 gay men in 28 African countries including Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria found only one in four living with HIV were taking medication, Reuters reports.
Half had taken an HIV/AIDS test in the past 12 months and researchers said the low rates were due to anti-LGBT laws in many African countries, which promoted stigma and discrimination and neglected HIV/AIDS programs targeting gay men.
“We found countries that had more repressive anti-LGBT laws or harsher penalties for same-sex relations had lower levels of HIV testing,” said Kate Mitchell, one of the researchers at Imperial College London who was involved in the study, Reuters reports. “Some of the studies suggested that this was due to stigma. More research is required to see whether, if these laws were repealed, more gay men would be tested and treated.”
According to the United Nations, about 470,000 people living with HIV in Africa still die every year because they cannot or do not get tested and gain access to treatment, accounting for more than 60 percent of all global HIV-related deaths, Reuters reports.
While there are no official figures on the number of deaths of men who have sex with men (MSM), Mitchell said it would be fair to estimate that thousands of gay men who were unaware or unable to get medication were dying every year.
African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a crime across most of continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death, Reuters reports.
A 2019 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found 32 African countries out of a total of 54 nations criminalize same-sex relations. South Africa is the only African nation to legalize gay marriage, Reuters reports.