Gay Rights Organisations Bold Abuse, Violence to Battle HIV in Cameroon

In a group dialogue held by Alcondoms, an organization supporting the health and rights of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people, Fleur was listening intently to the moderator discuss about gay sex when he asked if gays can catch AIDS by ingesting sperm.

Fleur’s question caused laughter and yet, HIV and homosexuality are no chortling matter for guys such as Fleur in a land where being gay is prohibited and LGBT protesters encounter rising violence and antagonism.

In Central and West Africa, after Nigeria, Cameroon has the second highest occurrence rate for HIV and men who are having sex with men are knocked down the hardest according to the U.S. AIDS programme.
One out of 25 people in Cameroon are infected with HIV and about a quarter of men having sex with same sex in Yaounde are carrying the virus that causes AIDS.

The presence of HIV within the gay groups in the economic capital, Douala is even far above the ground with two out of five men having sex with men (MSM) are contaminated, reported by the state’s national committee for AIDS control.

The committee reveals that it has introduced different strategies in the past years to decrease the prevalence of new infections, such as providing antiretroviral treatments for free and creating support programmes for infected people.

However, the fear of being jailed for 5 years and being discriminated are making LGBT and MSMs shun away from state programmes and hospitals declare civil society organizations who claim they fill the breach by making counseling, healthcare and condoms available.

But, the groups’ effort in promoting access to healthcare for these isolated communities also has unfavorable and unexpected impact according to Lambert Lamba, a gay rights activist.
Most people think that having MSM included in health guidelines is a scheme to legalise Homosexuality. This outlook resulted in increasing harassment on human rights supporters and gay people.

Atmosphere of Terror

Hostility is increasing between a highly conservative society and a younger group of people who are less affected by homosexuality in a nation which indicts people for being gay more insistently than any other country in the world, says a LGBT protester.

Between 2010 and 2014, there are already about 50 people who have been found guilty of homosexuality due to wearing of make-up, cross-dressing and a male texting another male “I love you”, according to a statistics accumulated by the Cameroonian Foundations for AIDS.

Apparently, there are fewer convictions since 2014, attributed to the intervention of LGBT-friendly lawyers and the support of Western diplomats, but prejudices towards LGBT and MSM are still evident.
A co-group dialogue attendee of Fleur, Evrard said publicly that he will never revisit a state hospital when he feels sick because of the disapproving stare of hospital staff and discriminating laughter and murmurs of people.

An official at the Human Dignity Trust reported that last month 12 men were arrested by policemen for homosexuality due to possession of lubricants and condoms while a few of offices of LGBT organizations have been burgled and vandalized in the past years.

According to Human Rights Watch, the death of Eric Ohena Lembembe, a gay rights activist whose body was found dead in Yaoundé triggered the ire of campaign groups in July 2013 in Cameroon. Lembembe’s feet were smashed, his neck broken, and his face was burned with an iron.

Set Free

The national AIDS control committee being aware of these disputes depends on local civic organizations to reach out those who are at risk of HIV by providing medical consultations and voluntary testing.

Patrick Fotso, the head of Alcondoms reveals that he himself is a sex worker and a MSM. This reality makes it easy for him and members of his association to reach out to their colleagues and give them prevention information. Alcondoms is able to educate about 50 people per month.

Bigger groups administer antiretroviral drugs while his group is focusing on making sure that all HIV-positive people listed in their record are included in the treatment programme.

One cost-effective strategy in preventing the spread of HIV is through the distribution of condoms. Jean-Bosco Elat, coordinator of the national AIDS committee said that over a million of condoms have been distributed last year in Cameroon against the 100,000 in 2008.

Even if all efforts are provided by the civic groups and the state to uplift health services to people like Fleur, they still have to live with the continuing threat of abuse, violence and discrimination.

Being in a group conversation is liberating for citizens who belongs to the LBGT factions wherein they can liberally discuss sex without being despised and having their concerns about their health answered without humiliations.

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