By Akoro Joseph Sewedo
The National HIV/Aids Secretariat of Sierra Leone, which falls under the National HIV/Aids Control Program (NACP) recently conducted a study on Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) around the country.
The 2011 study on MSM in Sierra Leone has broken the silence on the existence of sexual minorities in Sierra Leone. Findings from this survey revealed several problems affecting sexual minorities, especially MSM in Sierra Leone.
The issue of labeling amongst MSM in Sierra Leone came up very strongly during the study. The report concluded that while society may be very quick to conclude of the sexual orientation of an men who have sex with other men, some MSM respondents do not connect their sexual practices with being “gay.”
Some respondents insisted on the “heterosexual” identity and preferred it to remain like that. What this mean for programmers is that, there is need to be cautious in labeling in any intervention that targets MSM, for maximum impact.
The study also found that mltiple partnering is very common amongst MSM in Sierra Leone. Not only did respondents profess multiple male partnering, the study also reveal a bisexual concurrency. The study also found that transactional sex exists amongst MSM, with both male and female clients.
According to the findings:
“the legal and policy environment, which criminalises sexual minorities and their behavior, acts as an incitement to society to discriminate against sexual minorities. In addition, this has an adverse effect on sustainability of HIV response and public health in general."
“The findings also show that there is a high level of ignorance because sexuality and sexual rights issues are not openly discussed The implication of this ignorance is that intolerant behaviors have developed against sexual minorities and same-sex sexual practices, including those that do not infringe on the rights of others in Sierra Leone."
“The legal, policy and knowledge climate must be made conducive to create the requisite environment for sexual minorities to be free from discriminatory practices and human rights violations.”
This qualitative study was to compliment quantitative data that revealed HIV prevalence amongst MSM to be 7.5% during the National Mode of Transmission study that was conducted in July 2010.
“In 2010, we were faced with the indisputable reality of the existence of MSM in the Sierra Leonean society, during the mode of transmission study. Not only did this reality stare us in the face, it revealed and confirmed MSM as part of the Most-At-Risk-Population (MARPS) of which an urgent attention was required."He said given the nature of the Sierra Leonean society and its level of intolerance of sexual minorities especially MSM:
“The study on the status of HIV amongst MSM revealed 7.5 percent HIV prevalence amongst them. This is more than five times the national HIV prevalence, which means that MSM communities are important drivers of HIV epidemic in the country,” said Dr Brima Kargbo, Director of the National HIV/Aids Secretariat.
“MSM are mostly found to have concurrent sexual relationships with the opposite sex. This enables a cycle of HIV transmission in the most likely occurrence of multiple sexual partnering. This is a great threat to public health in general and has become a priority concern of NAS and NACP. High HIV prevalence amongst MSM cannot be blamed on their sexual practices per se.”The director of the NACP, Dr. Momodu Sesay said:
“The situational Assessment of MSM is very critical for comprehensive HIV/Aids programme planning and implementation in Sierra Leone.”The study sought to derive accurate information on the situation of MSM vis-a-vis sexual health programming.
The stakeholders involved in the study included; human rights organizations, law enforcement agencies, international and domestic NGOs as well as UN agencies. The stakeholders were featured in this study because of their very important involvement in the national HIV response as well as potential partnership in addressing the sexual health needs of MSM in Sierra Leone.