by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The World Health Organization is urging countries to eliminate laws criminalizing sexual activity between consenting men as part of an effort to ensure that men who have sex with men get equal access to HIV prevention and treatment.
WHO, the U.N.'s public health agency, made the statement as it issued new guidelines on HIV/AIDS prevention on June 20.
WHO said that men who have sex with men face legal or practical discrimination that prevents them from obtaining medical services in some 76 countries. They are consequently among the hardest-hit by the HIV epidemic, the agency added.
'If we do not pay major emphasis and attention to the epidemic in key populations we will not be able to eliminate it,' said the director of WHO's HIV department, Gottfried Hirnschall.
WHO said surveys showed many men in countries where Gay sex is illegal are afraid to go to clinics because they risk being turned away, publicly identified, or even arrested, beaten, and killed.
'These legal conditions force [Gay and Transgender people] to risk criminal sanctions if they want to discuss their level of sexual risk with a service provider,' the study found. 'They also give police the authority to harass organizations that provide services to these populations.'
Even if patients were willing to risk being open with doctors about their sexuality, they often encounter a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among medical professionals in low- and middle-income countries, according to WHO.
'They are exposed to harassment, exclusion, discrimination, and violence' in many aspects of their life, work, and education, as well as the health care system, Hirnschall said. 'Because of the stigma, because of the discrimination, they often access services late,' or they may not be able to get treatment at all.
'There is quite a political backlash that we see in many parts of the world to actually give these groups the rights and the services that they need,' he said.
Up to 40% of Gay and Bi men in some countries are HIV-positive, the WHO report says. That figure can be as high as 68% among Transgender populations.
The report warns of increasing HIV rates among Gay men in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, where estimates say more than half of new infections are caused by unprotected sex.
'The dramatic fact is that MSM [men having sex with men] are estimated to be 20 times more likely to be HIV-infected than the general population,' Hirnschall said.
In some countries and regions, up to 40% of Gay men are estimated to be HIV-positive, according to WHO.
WHO's guidelines are reportedly the first ever made for responding to the epidemic among Gay men and Transgender people in these countries.
WHO's official HIV/AIDS Toolkit for Zimbabwe, introduced in October 2006, has become the international standard for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Last week the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council also condemned discrimination against LGBT people around the world. This is also the first time that agency addressed LGBT issues.
Mariangela Simao, the head of prevention at UNAIDS, said the vote was a 'major breakthrough' for her agency's efforts to highlight the need for anti-discrimination laws as part of public health measures to contain HIV.
UNAIDS issued its own report on HIV/AIDS earlier this month. According to UNAIDS, while the overall rate of new HIV infections has declined by about 25%, infection rates remain high among high-risk populations, including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and their clients, and Transgender people.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!