Homosexuality remains illegal in 38 of 55 African nations. Such a stance against homosexuality is concerning from ethical and human rights perspectives. It also poses serious risks from a public health perspective, not least of all because of the significant rates of HIV across Africa.
Men who have sex with men account for a substantial minority of those affected by HIV, with their risk of infection more than double that of the general population. Many African countries also harbour homophobic cultures and attitudes. Together, this creates an environment where homosexuality is highly stigmatised, with homosexual people socially isolated and marginalised.
We know from decades of research across stigmatised and socially excluded groups, such as sex workers, injecting drug users and men who have sex with men, that criminalisation does little to change behaviour, while actively contributing to increased stigma and marginalisation of these groups. This amplifies the health risks by driving stigmatised communities underground, isolating them from health or support initiatives.
What does this mean for homosexual people across Africa?