Inter Press Service (01.05.12) - Tuesday, January 10, 2012
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
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."