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No Turning Back

Addressing the HIV Crisis Among Men Who Have Sex with Men

November 2001

Gay Men and HIV Prevention: Progress in Jeopardy

CDC's surveillance programs have tracked the course of the AIDS epidemic since the first case reports in 1981. After the agency's epidemiologic research identified the key modes of HIV transmission in the early 1980s, the agency issued safer sex guidelines that continue to guide HIV prevention efforts today.

CDC, along with state and local health departments, also began providing funding to community-based prevention programs in 1985, forging partnerships between public health officials and affected communities.

Even before prevention funding was available, gay men mobilized to fight the disease, mounting safer sex campaigns encouraging men to reduce the number of sexual partners and to use condoms to prevent transmission. Service organizations created by gay men provided vital information and support to people living with AIDS, and advocated for a stronger national response to the problem.

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The results of these early efforts and the degree of collaboration that emerged between government agencies and affected communities were unprecedented and had a profound effect on decreasing HIV transmission in the United States:
  • Studies indicate that gay men, in general, sharply reduced high-risk behaviors.(2) According to one study, the number of partners with whom the average gay man had unprotected intercourse fell by 90 percent between 1980 and 1991.(3)


  • Grassroots campaigns helped forge new community norms among gay men, leading to substantial increases in condom use. (3,4,5)


  • The dramatic change in risk behaviors among gay men contributed to a reduction in infections nationwide. Whereas more than 150,000 people contracted HIV each year in the mid-1980s, infection rates fell dramatically -- to an estimated 40,000 per year -- by 1990 and stabilized over the next decade.


At the same time, researchers identified effective prevention approaches for gay and bisexual men. In 1989, two different teams of researchers reported that small group informational and skills-building sessions led to significant increases in condom use among participants.(6,7) Research further documented the effectiveness of HIV prevention programs that used influential members of MSM social networks to deliver health promotion messages to peers.(8)

Although these successes have had a tremendous positive impact on the course of the U.S. epidemic thus far, there is now evidence of recent increases in risk-taking among MSM. Without immediate action to address these increases, gains in prevention to date may be lost.





  
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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

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