AIDS Stalks Gay and Transgender Indians
August 26, 2011
HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) and among transgender women in India is estimated at 7.3 percent, much higher than the 0.31 percent rate in the general adult population, according to the National AIDS Control Organization. This disparity persists despite India's 50 percent reduction in its overall HIV infection rate during the past decade.
"We don't have a proper denominator for the number of MSM, and that number is much higher than what we are willing to accept," said Ashok Row Kavi, gay rights activist and UNAIDS technical adviser for sexual minorities. "It's very worrying because hardly 4 percent of the [government] money for fighting HIV is coming to MSM groups."
Most gay men feel pressured to hide their sexuality, and some have no idea about the particular risks of unprotected sex, said Maksoom Ali, project manager at the Pahal Foundation, which offers condoms, counseling, and HIV testing to MSM and transgender persons. UNAIDS estimates about one-third of MSM in India are not accessing HIV testing, sex education, and free condoms.
"Many people think that [MSM] cannot get HIV, and that's one reason why people have a lot of unsafe sex," said Ali.
Sanam, a 25-year-old transgender sex worker, knew nothing about STDs in the beginning: "I never used to take it seriously; we used to do it without condoms. [Pahal Foundation] first conducted a blood test on me, then they told me about HIV, what it is, how it spreads. Because of that I always use condoms."
Sometimes customers use force to have unprotected sex, said Rupali, a 24-year-old transgender sex worker. Police also abuse her, she added: "They force us to have sex, they take our money, and then they beat us up."
Many nongovernmental organizations say funding for HIV prevention among MSM and transgender women falls short. For instance, the Pahal Foundation serves 50 percent more people than it can cover with its budget.
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