Nigerian Law makers have passed a bill that prohibits same sex marriage and gay relationships in the country. Any one suspected of being gay or involved in gay activities could spend 10 years in jail. Basically, it is now a criminal offence to be gay. What are the health implications of this type of bill?
This article is not about taking a stand on gay rights or being homophobic. Its about understanding the implications of a law on the masses. Its a well known fact that in Nigeria, the gay community are in hiding. People are not free to disclose their sexual orientation due to the stigma attached to it. The current fear and pressure forces gay men for instance to get married to women just to please society, whilst secretly having a sexual relationship with a gay partner. I met a woman in one of the HIV clinics who contracted the disease through her husband who later confessed to being gay. His gay lover passed it on to him, sadly, this gay lover also had a wife who had cheated on him with another man. The man his wife cheated on him with was also a married man. You see where this is going? Its a known fact that Nigerians are not the most faithful people in marriages and so mixing infidelity, homosexuality and this new anti-gay bill is definitely a HIV time bomb waiting to explode.
HIV control is going to be more difficult with this new bill because gay people will not feel comfortable going for HIV testing in clinics. Homo-sexuals are the high risk groups for HIV and to control the spread of this disease, we would have to focus on the high risk groups as well as the general population. Its pointless focusing on the general population and skipping those who are most at risk. In Nigeria, heterosexuals still find it difficult to go for testing due to the stigma attached to it. During one of my time spent in a town in rural Nigeria, a lady refused to go to the HIV clinic for her drugs because the doctor knew her and her family and so she said she’d rather die than people know she was infected with the virus. Its sad to say she eventually did die of the disease. In medical practice, if someone is diagnosed as HIV positive, usually they are asked to bring in their partner for testing and counselling. In a time like this where being gay is a crime, would gay people be willing to go for testing or even bring their partners into the clinic for testing especially as they are more at risk of the disease? Majority of African countries still struggle with stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and whats saddening is that some doctors and nurses in these countries contribute to this as there are tons of literature that found out that health professionals also discriminate against or treat HIV patients very differently from those that are uninfected.
HIV should not be a death sentence. At this point we should be trying to reduce the stigma associated with it so that treatment and prevention can be easy. If the high risk groups (gays), are afraid to get tested or disclose their sexual orientation and/or HIV status, then its safe to say the country has a long way in curbing the spread of this debilitating disease.