MSH Calls for Access to Health Care for All in Nigeria; Says New Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law Will Have Serious Impact On Health

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No population should be left behind as nations embark on the admirable and courageous path toward  universal health coverage.
(MSH President and CEO, Jonathan D. Quick)

(Abuja, Nigeria) Management Sciences for Health (MSH), a global health nonprofit organization working in over 60 countries, has worked in Nigeria for the past 10 years employing nearly 200 staff, the  majority of them Nigerian.  MSH extends its support and encouragement to President Goodluck Jonathan as the government of Nigeria prepares for a historic Presidential Summit on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Abuja in the coming weeks on March 10, 2014.  We are honored to partner with the Government of Nigeria on this important initiative. MSH has been an advocate for UHC for the past several years and is a leading proponent of UHC in the post-2015 development framework. 

MSH is deeply concerned, however, about Nigeria’s recently enacted Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and its potential impact on Nigeria’s attainment of UHC and health equity for all of its people. The Act prescribes up to 14 years in jail for persons who engage in gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership or encouragement of gay clubs and groups.

“As a global public health organization focused on ensuring that everyone has the opportunity for a healthy life and in support of health of all—universal health coverage—MSH believes that this new Act will have a negative impact on health and get in the way of Nigeria realizing truly universal health coverage,” said Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, President and CEO of MSH.  

“This new law will have serious effects on health and make HIV prevention and treatment more difficult. The new bill will also likely restrict what health organizations, like MSH and our partners, can do to help Nigeria fight HIV & AIDS and meet its Millennium Development Goals,” said Dr. Quick. 

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act will have far-reaching negative impact for these men and have potential crossover effects into the general population. Studies have shown that the more restrictive and discriminatory the legal structure is, the more it serves as a barrier to health seeking behaviors and effectively keeps these men “underground” avoiding medical care, potentially worsening the epidemic among MSM and their partners, both men and women. Many Nigerian MSM have wives and female partners, and if MSM aren’t reached with effective prevention interventions, HIV may continue unabated.  See Merrigan M, Azeez A, Afolabi  B, et al. Sex Transm Infect (2010).

According to recently published data on the epidemiology of the HIV & AIDS epidemic in Nigeria, HIV prevalence in Nigerian men who have sex with men (MSM) is over 17%, compared with 3.7% in the general Nigerian population (UNAIDS report, 2013 (PDF),  page 11)

 “Many MSM in Nigeria are already suffering from HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and are going underground and avoiding medical care. This will reverse Nigeria’s gains in the fight against HIV,” said Quick. “No population should be left behind as nations embark on the admirable and courageous path toward universal health coverage.”

Nigeria is one of many countries around the world that has harsh laws that discriminate against stigmatized populations. These laws have real impact on how these countries are able to address their health problems. MSH remains committed to health for all and we believe these laws undermine achieving greater health impact.