World health agency: Fight AIDS by repealing anti-gay laws

Logo of the World Health Organization
Logo of the World Health Organization

In an understated report, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared this month that nations should work to stop the spread of AIDS by removing obstacles to HIV prevention efforts that are caused by laws against homosexual activity, transgender status, sex work and drug use.
Those laws limit health care access for groups that are most at risk for HIV infection, WHO stated — “key populations” that include men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people and drug users.
Those groups, along with prisoners, are “disproportionately affected by HIV in all countries and settings,” WHO stated in its report “Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations.”
Those groups are most affected by HIV and get the least attention from  anti-AIDS programs, WHO noted:

“In an analysis of six countries in West Africa, for example, the proportion of new infections occurring in the sexual partners of people considered at “higher-risk” ranged from 20% in Burkina Faso and Nigeria to around 30% in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana and possibly as high as 49% in Senegal.
“Meanwhile, the proportion of HIV prevention expenditures devoted specifically to programmes for sex workers, their clients, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs was 1.7% in Burkina Faso, 0.4% in Côte d’Ivoire and 0.24% in Ghana, whereas the percentage of new infections estimated to occur in these population groups was 30%, 28% and 43%, respectively.”

In addition, the report stated, “Epidemics of HIV in men who have sex with men continue to expand in most countries. In major urban areas HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is on average 13 times greater than in the general population.”

Alloys Orago, former director of Kenya's National AIDS Control Council.  (Photo courtesy of
Alloys Orago, former director of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council. (Photo courtesy of

In East Africa, where many countries have laws that are condemned by the WHO report, people looked for ways to accomplish the WHO’s goals without following its recommendations. For example, an article in Africa Review quoted a former leader of Kenya’s anti-AIDS effort:

“The former director of Kenya’s National Aids Control Council (NACC), Alloys Orago, said East Africans should be cautious in implementing the guidelines.
” ‘We should be cautious in implementing the guidelines the way they are expressed given our cultural background. Nonetheless, we can still achieve our objectives without radically changing our laws,’ said Prof Orago.
“The former NACC official added that East African countries should accept that homosexuals, drug users and commercial sex workers do exist and should have access to medical services just like other groups of people.”

The WHO report makes clear recommendations for the repeal of HIV-enabling laws, but only deep inside the body of the text, not in the executive summary. The summary only states:

“Laws, policies and practices should be reviewed and, where necessary, revised by policy-makers and government leaders, with meaningful engagement of stakeholders from key population groups, to allow and support the implementation and scale-up of health-care services for key populations.”

In the body of the report, the recommendations are much less vague:

  • “Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize same-sex behaviours.”
  • “Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.”
  • “Countries should work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.”
  • “Countries should work towards legal recognition for transgender people.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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