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Detroit Public Health Program Trying to Reach Arab-American MSM With HIV/AIDS Prevention Messages

March 17, 2004

A Detroit public health program is trying to reach Arab-American men who have sex with men -- one of Detroit's "most secretive" and overlooked groups -- with HIV/AIDS prevention messages, the Detroit Free Press reports. Health officials have said that Arab-American MSM may be the most high-risk MSM group in the state (Laitner, Detroit Free Press, 3/16). Southeast Michigan has about 300,000 immigrants from the Middle East. State health officials said that Arab-American MSM have been "overlooked" largely because the group is among the state's most "reclusive," the AP/ reports (AP/, 3/16). "These people leave countries where there still are laws on the books making homosexuality a capital crime. They come here to find gay bars and gay books and gay movies, and they go a little nuts" and may engage in high-risk sexual behavior, Craig Covey, CEO of the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, which helped start the Arab-American MSM outreach program, said. The program is financed by state public health and foundation funding (Detroit Free Press, 3/16). In addition, some Arab-American MSM believe that they can avoid contracting HIV by having sex only with other Arab men and are unaware of the risks of HIV transmission, Chris Ayoub, who works on the outreach program, said, according to the AP/ (AP/, 3/16). Ayoub and David Ponsart, who are health educators, recently held a party for Arab-American MSM during which they conducted HIV tests and distributed condoms and sex education booklets written in Arabic. Some people might view the outreach program as "odd," according to the Free Press. But Eve Mokotoff, HIV/AIDS epidemiology manager for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said, "We have to reach the population at risk," even if health educators have to go "to nightclubs dressed in tank tops" (Detroit Free Press, 3/16).

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