Expanding the fight against AIDS among LGBTs in Cameroon

CAMFAIDS session
CAMFAIDS members at recent joint meeting with partner organizations (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

After more than a year of working to educate LGBTI people in Yaoundé about how to avoid HIV infection, the young Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, or CAMFAIDS, has set its sight on reaching more people in 2012.

The organization was founded in 2010 to combat the increasing rate of HIV / AIDS among the country’s sexual minorities despite many programs and projects aimed at combating the disease.

“Young people in Yaoundé, especially those living near Soa University, are increasingly active sexually, but previously had not been reached by our partner organizations,” says Dominique Menoga, the president of CAMFAIDS. “During our field visits, people admitted that they had never seen a lubricant and did not even know how HIV / AIDS is transmitted.”

This year CAMFAIDS plans to reach more people in the community of men who have sex with men, or MSM. The association also aims to secure a location for its educational programs and expand its network of partners.

“We can only achieve that with contributions from national and international agencies that promote health among sexual minorities,” Menoga acknowledges.

To this end, CAMFAIDS has submitted applications to many prospective donors, seeking support for projects to improve the lives of MSM in Cameroon.

Exponential growth of HIV among gays

CAMFAIDS was founded in May 2010 in response to ever-increasing numbers of deaths from the pandemic in the homosexual community of Yaoundé. “We were deeply shocked,” Menoga recalls, noting that some who died had been their close friends of the founding members.

“As concerned citizens seeking the well-being of people who are vulnerable in terms of sexual health, we could not sit idly by. Despite prevention efforts that were already under way, we felt an urgent need to stop this wave of deaths and the spread of the virus among sexual minorities in Yaoundé and its environs by establishing an association worthy of the name AIDS Foundation.”

“So we created CAMFAIDS in May 2010 with the primary objective of extending counseling and support in the sexually vulnerable communities of Yaoundé and its surroundings,” Menoga says.

Achievements in 2011

Coordinating meeting of CAMFAIDS
Coordinating meeting of CAMFAIDS (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

In its summary of its activities in 2011, the young foundation lists 128 personal discussions and 32 educational talks organized by four peer educators. These four CAMFAIDS representatives mostly visit gathering places such as snack bars, cabarets, cinemas, night clubs and similar locales to discuss methods to prevent the spread of HIV / AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Frequent topics for discussion include the sexual practices of MSM and the risks those practices create for contracting HIV and various STDs. Other topics include the importance of proper use of condoms and lubricating gel, the usefulness of knowing HIV status, the risks of multiple partners, etc.

Advocacy / lobbying

CAMFAIDS training session
CAMFAIDS gathering marks World AIDS Day in December. (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

At these sessions, CAMFAIDS peer educators also discuss the rights of MSM, how to improve self-esteem, and how to express sexual orientation in a hostile and discriminatory environment.

“During the past year, the primary goal of CAMFAIDS was to contribute to the fight against STDs and HIV / AIDS among disadvantaged social groups in general and among the homosexual community of Yaoundé and surrounding areas. This is not an easy task,” says the organization’s executive secretary, “not only because of our inexperience, but also because we lack strong financial and technical partnerships that can support us in outreach activities, especially advocacy with the goal of persuading the Cameroonian government to include MSM in its large-scale programs against STDs and HIV / AIDS.”

Human rights

Solutions to the problems that MSM face will also come from the MSM community itself, he adds, so CAMFAIDS supports these young Cameroonians as they confront discrimination and stigma related to sexual orientation. The association plans to continue this advocacy through publication of press releases, commemoration of the World the Day of Human Rights, and networking with organizations working in Cameroon, including UNAIDS; USAID; the National AIDS Control Committee, or CNLS; the Global Fund’s Cameroon Coordinating Mechanism, or CCM; and the Cameroon National Planning Association for Family Welfare.

Eric O. LEMBEMBE

Eric O. Lembembe is a Cameroonian journalist and the executive secretary of CAMFAIDS.

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