Living a Double Life: HIV and Men Who Have Sex with Men

HIV has a devastating impact on men who have sex with men (MSM) in Nigeria.

“Because of stigma, discrimination, homophobia, and criminalization that MSM face in the course of their lives in many African countries, many are reluctant to access health care services and participate in research thus heightening their vulnerability to HIV infection,” says an article from the June 1 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immonudeficiency Syndromes (JSAIDS).

Led by PSI’s Lung Vu, the researchers found MSM to practice very high-risk behavior: having more than one sexual partner and high rates of unprotected sex, as well as many who have sex with both men and women. Many of these men suffer with internalized homophobia and are therefore less likely to access HIV prevention and treatment services. The researchers call for a combination prevention approach which includes biomedical (such as HIV counseling and testing and condoms), behavioral (such as mass media campaigns and education programs), and structural (such as advocacy to change discriminating policies) interventions.

In Africa, MSM are 4 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population.

Unlike the catalytic advocacy movements in the United States and other Western countries that have engaged homosexual and other MSM in the fight against HIV/AIDS, African MSM are silenced by social stigma and oppressive policies. In countries like Nigeria, studies find that many MSM live double lives, publicly engaging in heterosexual relationships, including marriage, and same-sex relationships secretly.

PSI is a global leader in working at the forefront of the HIV epidemic to stop new infections and reach the most vulnerable and neglected populations. This includes a strong emphasis on MSM. One of PSI’s more intricate and successful programs with MSM was in Togo, where in 2007, PSI launched a comprehensive HIV prevention campaign.

Here are our top 7 lessons learned in Togo:

1) Engage local MSM communities and/or associations in program design, message development and program implementation.
2) Build trust and access to MSM community through community-based participatory research.
3) Develop a referral system for HIV prevention and other services, centered on health providers that are sensitive to the needs of MSM.
4) Establish condom and lubricant distribution channels specifically targeting MSM.
5) Empower leaders in the MSM community to support you in sustaining your efforts.
6) Security and privacy are of the utmost importance.
7) Recruit peer educators that represent the many diverse groups within the MSM population.

In order to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, it is crucial that prevention interventions reach those who are most at risk. Lessons from countries like Nigeria and Togo teach us that in order to reach MSM and other high-risk communities, we must utilize tailored interventions that simultaneously focus on the biomedical, behavioral and structural drivers of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

by Lung Vu, Research Advisor, HIV & TB and Rena Greifinger, Technical Advisor, Sexual Reproductive Health and TB
Source – Impact