Metro Weekly

Laws criminalizing homosexuality increase risk of gay men getting HIV

Researchers examined HIV rates in sub-Saharan countries with laws criminalizing same-sex relations

gay, hiv, criminal, illegal, africa

Rapid HIV test — Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Gay and bisexual men in countries with harsh laws criminalizing their sexual activity are almost five times more likely to have HIV than in countries where homosexuality is legal.

That’s according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University, which examined men who have sex with men (MSM) in ten sub-Saharan countries, aidsmap reports.

In countries with laws harshly penalizing homosexuality, MSM are 4.6 times more likely to be living with HIV than those in countries where same-sex sexual activity is legal, researchers found.

For countries where criminalization exists, but punishments are less severe, MSM are more than twice as likely to be living with HIV.

Researchers analyzed 8,113 MSM in 10 sub-Saharan countries with varying degrees of criminalization: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, and Rwanda, where homosexuality is legal; Cameroon, Senegal, Togo, and eSwatini, where homosexuality is punished with less than eight years in prison; and Gambia and Nigeria, where MSM face more than ten years in prison for having sex.

In the four countries without criminalization, 8% of the men were living with HIV. In countries with some criminalization, that figure rose to 20%.

In the two countries with the harshest punishments for same-sex sexual activity, more than half of the men sampled (52%), were living with HIV.

Researchers also examined HIV rates relative to whether countries ban pro-LGBTQ organizations.

In countries that restrict organizations serving MSM, men were more than twice as likely to be living with HIV.

“Decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual practices is necessary to optimize HIV prevention efforts and ultimately address the HIV epidemic,” Carrie Lyons, senior researcher, concluded.

Matthew Hodson, executive director of NAM aidsmap, told PinkNews that countries sometimes argue that “[preventing] the transmission of HIV and other STIs is sometimes used to as cover to introduce or retain homophobic laws.”

“This report quantifies the increased risk of HIV acquisition in countries that criminalize homosexuality and demonstrates the relationship between severe penalties for same-sex sexual behavior and higher prevalence of HIV,” Hodson said.

He added: “We will not end HIV without ensuring the rights and dignity of LGBT people are respected.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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