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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Senegal: IAS outraged at arrest of gay HIV prevention workers

The International AIDS Society has issued a statement following the arrest of ten individuals some of whom are HIV education and prevention workers.

The full statement is below.

Statement on the Criminalization of Sexual Orientation in Senegal
19 February 2008 (Geneva, Switzerland / Abuja, Nigeria)

As the principal convener of the International AIDS Conference, and as an organizing partner of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), the International AIDS Society (IAS) is firmly committed to an evidence-based response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, based on sound science. It is therefore with great concern that we note recent developments in Senegal that led to the arrest of 10 individuals based on their sexual orientation, some of whom are HIV education and prevention workers in Senegal.

The IAS is the world’s leading association of HIV professionals, with more than 10,000 members working at all levels of the global response to HIV/AIDS. Our members represent scientists, clinicians, and public health and community leaders on the frontlines of the epidemic in 171 countries worldwide.

The Society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) is an independent association of HIV professionals in Africa, and the custodian of ICASA, the biennial regional AIDS conference in Africa. The next ICASA is scheduled to be held in Dakar, Senegal, in December 2008. Specifically for this reason, and to echo recent statements made by human rights organizations, IAS and SAA express our deep concern with the recent arrests in Senegal.

Senegal has long been viewed as a model, given its success in controlling HIV/AIDS, which has affected other parts of Africa so severely. The success of the Senegalese response to HIV/AIDS has been the country’s ability to involve all segments of society as part of the national efforts on HIV education, prevention, care and treatment. Senegal is a country with strong faith traditions. And through tolerance and faithful collaboration, public health leaders in Senegal have long been able to work with socially marginalized populations such as commercial sex workers, migrant workers, and men who have sex with men, to create model HIV prevention programs. Central to this success is that Senegalese HIV programs have not discriminated against individuals based on sexual orientation. This approach in Senegal is a model for much of the world, and has proven successful despite concerns of some political and ideological leaders.

From the perspective of science and sound public health policy, the IAS believes that all countries around the world must work respectfully with all segments of their population to stem the tide of inequality and to support disease prevention. Criminalizing sexual orientation has never led to positive results – and has never shown to reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Evidence shows us that criminalizing and discriminating against any group of individuals only serves to fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic by denying services and relevant prevention messages.

“The arrest of these men, based purely on their sexual orientation, is completely unfounded, and represents a major setback for the Senegalese response to HIV, which is widely viewed as a model in Africa,” said IAS President Dr. Pedro Cahn.

The Society for AIDS in Africa, the custodian of ICASA, considers Senegal as a model of best practices for AIDS work in the continent, but opposes any form of discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation.

IAS would like to continue supporting the upcoming ICASA Conference in Dakar, Senegal, in December 2008. IAS and SAA would be better assured of the appropriateness of their continued support if it were to be made clear that those arrested recently in Dakar, primarily based on their sexual orientation, will not be charged as criminals. It would be further reassuring to know that the individuals who have been arrested, and their peers, are still welcomed to work alongside Senegalese public health officials on all aspects of HIV/AIDS programming in their country.



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