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).
    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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora