To fight HIV/AIDS, doctors must battle their homophobia

Dr. Jean-Baptiste Guiard-Schmid addresses training session. (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)
Dr. Jean-Baptiste Guiard-Schmid, on right, addresses HIV/AIDS training session. (Photo by Eric O. Lembembe)

To be successful, the fight against HIV / AIDS depends on a combination of strategies, including reduction of homophobia.

That was the message delivered last month in Yaoundé, Cameroon, to a training session attended by 33 health professionals and psychological social workers from Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso and Togo.

Among the most highly recommended strategies was a treatment plan for providing HIV prevention services to men who have sex with men (MSM). For some professionals, treating MSM requires a change of attitude.

Dr. Wilfried Dandy Wanikomané Marius said he stayed aloof from MSM until he attended an HIV / AIDS training session in Paris. Marius, a doctor at the National University Hospital Center in Bangui, Cameroon, was one of the trainees at last month’s session.

“I admit that, before my training session in France, I was very homophobic. I had many prejudices about MSM. I thought, as a large portion of the population thinks, that such people should be exterminated.

“But then, with the knowledge that I had received in training, I understood the importance of being tolerant. Increasingly, the lessons I learned have helped me to treat this population. Now I am even ready to work with organizations that defend the rights of MSM.”

Dr. Mamadou Lamine Sakho, UNAIDS coordinator in Cameroon, said that only by dealing with high- risk groups such as MSM can an efficient and effective fight against HIV / AIDS be waged.

“In Cameroon, despite an extremely challenging environment, great strides have been made,” he said, “but much remains to be done to reduce new infections by 2015, particularly among MSM.”

Strategies for fighting HIV/AIDS

Dr. Jean-Baptiste Guiard-Schmid, coordinator of the training sessions, said AIDS cannot be defeated by using just one approach. Instead, he said, the attack on AIDS should include

  • Biomedical approaches, including HIV testing, antiretroviral (ARV) treatments, and treatments for sexually transmitted infections (STI) before and after exposure.
  • Behavior change at the individual level;
  • Changes in the social, political and cultural environment;
  • Passage of new laws that will foster greater respect for the human rights of people who are most at risk from HIV;
  • Mobilization of all parties concerned in the fight against HIV / STIs, including the health system, to provide appropriate services to those people without judging them.

The training sessions were sponsored by the African Network of Training on HIV / AIDS (Réseau Africain des Formations sur le VIH/SIDA, or RAF VIH), in partnership with CARE Cameroon. They also were supported by WHO, UNAIDS and Sidaction.


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