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Michigan: Stopping the Spread of HIV -- Two Break Through Silence to Help Teach Gay Arabs

March 18, 2004

Three years ago, HIV experts in Michigan began to fear that Arab Americans were an underserved group increasingly impacted by HIV, said Craig Covey, CEO of the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP). MAPP had previously identified and educated subgroups including gay Latinos and African Americans about HIV. But in southeast Michigan, which has a large Mid-Eastern immigrant population, "Arab Americans were the last group of gay men anyone had tried to reach," said Covey.

"These people leave countries where there are still laws on the books making homosexuality a capital crime," said Covey. Using a $55,000 annual state grant administered by the nonprofit Dearborn health center ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), MAPP employs outreach workers to bring HIV/AIDS prevention messages to one of Detroit's most secretive groups.

Lured by an Arabian Nights party at a Ferndale nightclub, young participants can pick up sex-education booklets printed in Arabic and take an on-the-spot HIV oral swab test. "I tell them, 'Listen, I'm gay. I'm in a gay bar with you. I'm not going to tell anyone I found you here," said Chris Ayoub, who does outreach work along with David Ponsart. "A lot of them are married. Their family asks them to. If not, it's a shame on the family," said Ayoub. "They think if they only sleep with Arab men, they won't get infected. They think God will protect them," he said.

"We have to reach the population at risk," even if that means sending educators to "nightclubs dressed in tank tops," said Eve Mokotoff, HIV/AIDS epidemiology manager for the Michigan Department of Health. Otherwise, more men could contract HIV and the state could spend more money to treat them as they endure years of fear and suffering, she said.

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Excerpted from:
Detroit Free Press
03.16.04; Bill Laitner

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