Gays Take the Spotlight at the African AIDS Conference

by Savitha C Muppala on Dec 8 2008 5:42 PM

Financial crisis and its impact on AIDS funding was the main concern during the International conference on AIDS in Africa, also the first time Gays took the spotlight.

"There were a lot of discussions of the fear (of reduced funding) but we also talked particularly about the possibility of innovative financing," Souleymane Mboup, the Senegalese researcher who presided over the ICASA 2008 conference, said after the closing ceremony.

He did not go into details about the new types of funding other than to say there were some local African funds now used for other things that could be directed for health care in general.

Africa is the continent worst hit by the AIDS pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 22 million people living with HIV, the virus that can lead to full-blown AIDS. However, most of the funding for HIV/AIDS comes from outside of Africa.

Mboup called for more research to prepare for a possible reduction in foreign aid.

"These types of studies will help us to define priorities that will help us set up scenarios, that wil help us make proposals if we have to make reductions where we could," he said.

Another big issue at this year's conference was the fact that sexual minorities stepped into the spotlight.

"This was the first time that we saw a MSM (man who has sex with men) speak at the closing ceremony," Mboup said.

Steave Nemande, a gay doctor from Cameroon praised the conference for the way it allowed gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people speak.

"That is proof that the conference really did face the facts" as the title of the conference promised, Nemande said.

He stressed that studies showed that men who have sex with men (MSM) are "five to 20 times" more affected by HIV/AIDS that the general population. So far only seven African countries specifically name MSM in their national programs to fight AIDS.

"Gays in Africa are a reality," he said.