Lubes A Key Priority in Africa

Condom-compatible lubes are a rarity in Africa forcing transgender women, gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) and heterosexual populations that engage in anal sex to utilize alternative methods that potentially exposes them to a range of sexually transmitted infections including HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Following a meeting of Africa for Rectal Microbicides (Project ARM) held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in December 2011, participants decided to create the Global Lube Access Mobilization (GLAM) initiative to support increased access and availability of condom-compatible lubes throughout the world, beginning with a focus on Africa, employing the tagline "And Lube!

This tag-line "And Lube!" reminds people to distribute condoms 'and [condom compatible] lube' to make anal sex safer and more comfortable. At the two-day meet, held at the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), initiated by the International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) in partnership with AVAC - Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, participants acknowledge lubricants, or "lube" that can be used with condoms are a key priority for safer anal sex. 

"There is a need for lube which is condom safe in many parts of Africa - when you're talking about HIV prevention among men who have sex with men (MSM), it's about condoms and lube," said Kent Klindera, Director, MSM Initiative at amfAR, in an exclusive interview with Citizen News Service.

He added that there are still many challenges that need to be overcome to make lube availability a reality on the continent, including legal, policy and cost issues. Kent said while the effectiveness of lubes have long been known within the gay community, little progress has been made to bring them into the mainstream. 

He attributed this to a combination of homophobia and rectal phobia, adding that HIV has provided an opportunity to discuss the greater provision of lubes.  

He said that in order to overcome the widespread anti-gay sentiment in many parts of Africa, there is a need to show that lubes are not only targeted at gay men but can also be utilized by heterosexual populations that engage in anal sex.

Daniel Lyons, an internal health consultant, said that access to lubes remains a major problem on the continent because of both prevailing homophobic attitudes and huge costs of products.

"In Kenya, a group of MSM took their own initiative to imprort lubes but faced problems due to high taxation which increased the cost of lubes. They also faced questions from the authorities on why they were importing lubes," Lyons said.

He said that interview with MSM from Africa revealed that some lubes are of poor quality which reduces their efficacy.

"Some of the products that MSM end up are of poor quality. While silicon-based products are the best alternative, costs are high. However, the goal is to have lubes incorporated into national strategic plans of countries, and made accessible to whoever needs them," he said.

Chief K Masimba Biriwasha - CNS
(The author, born in Zimbabwe, is an Editor, a children's writer, poet, playwright, journalist, social activist and publisher. He has extensively written on health. His first published book, 'The Dream Of Stones', was awarded the Zimbabwe National Award for Outstanding Children's Book for 2004)