Ishaya Williams knows first-hand how homophobia promotes the spread of HIV in Nigeria. As a doctor at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Idi-Araba, he reports that many of his colleagues express disgust the moment they discover that a patient is gay.
He wouldn’t even allow the use of his real name in this article, for fear that he will be shunned as “pro-homosexual.”
Doctors’ homophobic behavior contributes to the spread of the virus, he says, because homophobia is a serious problem with health professionals all over the country.
In an interview on the NoStrings podcast, Williams said:
“Here in this country, homosexuality is illegal and punishable under the law. But doctors have sworn in their Hippocratic Oath that they will render their services to people irrespective of their sexual orientation, yet they still ignore this and discriminate. I say this is very wrong. All lives matter.”
Because of the country’s current anti-gay law, LGBT persons lie about themselves to health professionals and counselors, Williams said. They present themselves as heterosexuals just to avoid discrimination.
When they do that, he said, the effect is disastrous. They are unable to talk freely about their actual unique health concerns and this becomes frustrating for them. Because they feel helpless, they indulge in risky behaviors. Many resort to taking excessive alcohol, which then leads them into engaging in all forms of risky sexual behaviors.
“Some LGBT out of shame and fear, pretend to be heterosexuals, because a lot of the doctors discriminate against them and tell them about how homosexuality is wrong and bad.
“Doctors will sometimes refuse to render their services to them, blaming their [HIV-positive] status on their sexuality, instead of counseling them against engaging in unsafe sexual practices.”
Poor health services are also a contributing factor in the spread of HIV, because many people are not getting adequate support and care. Williams complained bitterly about the regular strikes at government-owned hospitals, saying that this is affecting the quality of services that patients are supposed to enjoy. He said:
“If one is HIV-positive, it doesn’t just end there. More work needs to be done. The person has to undergo some tests to know the amount of the viral load and the particular drug combinations that one needs to consume. …
“What HIV clinics do is to check if one is infected — and that’s all. But when they confirm that someone is positive, they can’t carry out the remaining test because they are dependent on FMC and Teaching Hospitals.
“If those hospitals are on strike, HIV-positive individuals won’t undergo their further test. What we need to fight for is to establish an independent center that can offer these services for free, and more especially, targeting and including LGBT people in its programs as they are the most at risk.”
Homophobic and discriminatory laws need to be repealed, Williams said, because they create tension and tend to limit health services, especially to LGBT people. That infringes on people’s right to health, which is intertwined with their right to life. These are human lives that we are talking about.
Isn’t protecting lives one of the responsibilities of any government? True, we cannot entirely blame people’s reckless behaviors on other people’s attitudes, but it’s clear that homophobia is a contributing factor in promoting the spread of HIV.
As a country, if we really want to eliminate HIV, or at least slow its spread, then it’s time we drop the hate laws that hinder our efforts to fight the AIDS epidemic.