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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More