Salaam to HIV – MSM HIV Epidemic in the Middle East

Salaam alakoom friends (hello in Arabic).   In the first study of its kind, researchers from Cornell University in Qatar have concluded that concentrated epidemics (infection rates above 5 percent in a certain group) among men who have sec with men exist in Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Tunisia.  There is little data on this region where homosexuality is considered taboo.  According to one researcher quoted in the article, the region is like a “black hole” in the global HIV data since such little data is available.  The research has found “considerable and increasing epidemiological evidence on HIV and risk behavior among men who have sex with men” in the region.

The findings are not surprising  – in  2008 researchers found that  HIV transmission via anal sex among men was responsible for more than a quarter of notified cases of HIV in several countries in the region.  This is not surprising given the fact that sex, let alone homosexuality is rarely if ever discussed in the region.  Men who have sex with men have no resources to turn to for sexual health services, and like in many societies must have underground sex.  In such scenarios without education and intervention and acknowledgement from NGOs and the government HIV spreads outside of the MSM population to the general public – although the article states that in Lebanon and Pakistan NGOs have emerged to deliver services to this highly hidden population.  Education, education, education – remove the stigma of homosexuality and the barriers to service that prevail.  It won’t happen overnight – but neither did the spread of HIV. Oh yeah – I forgot its also illegal for men to have sex with men in 18 out of 21 countries in this region.

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