News / Africa

In Senegal's Prisons, a Small Victory for AIDS Awareness

AIDS victim is washed in Dakar hospital ward that specializes in HIV treatment, Senegal (undated file photo).
AIDS victim is washed in Dakar hospital ward that specializes in HIV treatment, Senegal (undated file photo).
TEXT SIZE - +
Amanda Fortier

At Camp Penal maximum-security prison in Dakar, Amadou, who withholds his real name to protect his identity, is talking to his sixth and last group of prisoners about AIDS. Since early this morning, the young Senegalese activist has spoken with more than 150 detainees -- men from all over the world, some from as far away as El Salvador and France, imprisoned for everything from petty theft and fraud to rape and murder.

Amadou is no stranger to many of these inmates, having given talks and helped out at a Dakar health clinic since 2007. In December 2008, he was even arrested along with eight other men during what he calls an AIDS meeting on the outskirts of the capital. The men were charged and convicted for "indecent sexual behaviour," and their eight-year sentences made international headlines. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch intervened, and, after serving four months -- half of which was spent in Dakar’s notoriously overcrowded Reubeuss prison, and half at Camp Penal -- the men were freed.

Ever since, Amadou has been leading AIDS awareness talks with prisoners, one of the most vulnerable groups in this predominantly Muslim nation where prison authorities and even members of the National Alliance Against Aids -- the two groups who permit the talks -- often refuse to acknowledge the issue of men who have sex with men.

But whether they admit it or not, Amadou says, everyone knows there are sexual relations among male prisoners.

Comparative HIV-infection rates

Senegal has one of the lowest rates of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa: less than one percent of the population. But among men who have sex with men, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is estimated at twenty-two percent. Inmates are thought to be especially susceptible to HIV transmission due to the prison system's high incidence rate of hard drug use and forced sexual relations.

Brendan Hanlon, chief executive at AVERT, an AIDS charity based in Britain, says there are no studies showing HIV rates in Senegal’s prisons specifically, but that in other African countries, such as Zambia and South Africa, rates among prisoners are twice that of the general population.

"The first thing is that when tackling the HIV epidemic, prisoners are often neglected and overlooked -- a phenomenon which happens worldwide," he says. "And so within prisons it is difficult to obtain, for example, clean equipment for injection, and also, of course, ... condoms and also education about HIV."

Alassane Balde, head of medical staff at Camp Penal, says use of hard drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin are infrequent at the prison mostly because of its high cost. When asked about sexual relations among prisoners, he is reluctant to comment.

"Their religion does not permit this sort of activity, and they are very strict about it, because it is a taboo," he says via translator. "The authorities have given Amadou and his colleagues the opportunity to give these talks, but once that is finished, they do not want to continue talking about men having sex with men, because not everyone is this way."

There are currently 13 known HIV cases among Camp Penal's population of more than 800 prisoners. There is no mandatory testing in place, and anonymity is strictly enforced. The men who are infected receive free anti-retroviral treatments and have monthly check-ups. But the lack of prevention strategies at the prison means other inmates may inadvertently be exposing themselves to the disease.

Hanlon says HIV reduction has been proven in prisons that offer needle-exchange programs or condom distribution.

"But the issues ... especially in Muslim countries is that, for governments and for a particular prison to introduce programs such as needle exchange, such as condom distribution, it admits to an issue which the laws and the rules say shouldn’t be there," he says. "So it’s quite a difficult situation, but that is often what happens."

Winning a battle, but not the war

Although Amadou considers his prison talks a step forward in Senegal's struggle against HIV, he is quick to point out that the fight cannot be won in a country where gay rights are continually shunned.

"The work they are doing is not for themselves," he says via translator. "It is for everyone. But is there any person of authority who would dare give this message?"

After Amadou’s talks, many prisoners asked to be tested. In the coming weeks, a medical team is expected to visit Camp Penal for voluntary HIV testing.

Meanwhile Amadou will continue giving his talks.

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid