Monday August 4, 2008
Gay, bisexual men still at high risk for HIV - study
By Tan Ee Lyn
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population, yet are ignored in many countries, an AIDS group said in a study released on Monday.
The report from the American Foundation for AIDS Research or AMFAR suggests the group originally at most risk of the fatal and incurable virus -- gay and bisexual men -- remain at highest risk, even as the pandemic has broadened to affect women and children.
AMFAR trawled through 128 country reports submitted to the United Nations AIDS agency UNAIDS to find that 44 percent of those countries failed to provide any data on gay or bisexual men.
The study, released at a global AIDS conference in Mexico City, concluded that governments and global health agencies have failed to address the growing HIV epidemic among men who have sex with other men -- referred to widely among AIDS experts as MSM.
Despite a unanimous commitment that all U.N. member countries made in 2001 to monitor HIV among high-risk groups, the report found that 71 percent of countries said they did not have any information on the percentage of gay and bisexual men reached by HIV prevention programs.
"The failure of the Global Fund (for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria), PEPFAR (the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), The World Bank, and the world's other global health bodies to devote significant resources toward reducing HIV rates among MSM is indefensible," said AMFAR CEO Kevin Frost.
"These organizations have policies on women, drug users, migration -- but not one of them has a comprehensive policy on MSM."
The AMFAR report identified Kenya, Jamaica, Benin, Thailand, and Ghana as the countries with the highest reported percentage of gay and bisexual men infected with HIV.
Although data was scarce, the report found that men who had sex with other men were 18 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population in Asia and at least four times more likely in Africa.
In Latin America, gay and bisexual men were 33 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. In Bolivia, they were 179 times more likely to be infected.
In Mexico, one study found 26 percent of men who had sex with men had HIV, the highest rate of any country in Latin America. Though these men make up nearly a quarter of those infected with HIV in Latin America, MSM programs receive less than one percent of total HIV/AIDS spending in the region.
Criminalization of sexual activity between males may be a major driver of the epidemic in many countries, the report concluded. Seven of 10 countries with the highest reported HIV rates among gay and bisexual men criminalize homosexuality.
Globally, 86 countries criminalize sexual activity between males. In seven countries, sexual activity between males is punishable by death. This institutionalized stigma and discrimination frequently prevents men from accessing even basic HIV services, the report said.
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