Category Archives: Middle East

Gaddafi: “Only homosexuals contract AIDS”

So as many of us know, the rebel movement in Libya has killed Muammar Gaddafi, and I have been trying to wrap my head around what this means for HIV and MSM in this Arab North African state.  It has been stated that Gaddafi has been quoted as saying that only homosexuals get AIDS, and has jailed homosexuals and made sex among two consenting males a crime.  According to the New Civil Rights Movement, Gaddafi is quoted as saying that he believed it was “impossible” for one to contract HIV through unprotected heterosexual intercourse.

As I have stated many times before, lack of political support for gay rights may cause MSM to be uneducated about HIV and sexual risk taking, and may cause MSM to engage in risky sexual behavior and fuel the spread of HIV.

However, as I have heard on the news that the new Libya wishes to embrace Islamic law, I am left wondering if anything will change in this arena.  As we know, past Arab regimes and current ones such as Iran are intolerant of gays or MSM, and I don’t know if a new strict Islamic rule will take the same stance, making homosexuality and its associated behaviors illegal.  Under strict Islamic law, even a democracy, I do not foresee an environment where Libyan MSM (or any Libyan) will be adequately educated in HIV prevention.   The country is just starting to understand and investigate what happened to cause hundreds of children to become infected with HIV in the late 1990s.  The incident was blamed on the foreign Bulgarian nurses working in the hospitals, who were kidnapped and released for ransom.  It is suspected that the infections came about from poor hospital hygiene.  There is obviously much to be learned in this nation about HIV, both for MSM and Libyan citizens.

I can only hope that freedom will bring education for men who have sex with men on the risks of unprotected sex. Hopefully the “new Libya” will embrace the ideas of education and equality for all to ensure that Libyans do not die needless deaths.

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.