Casual Sex Among Cambodia's MSM an HIV Timebomb
October 12, 2007
Men who have sex with men (MSM), but who may not consider themselves to be homosexual or bisexual, account for just 4 percent of Cambodian men but represent a serious challenge to AIDS control efforts.
Aggressive condom promotion and sex education campaigns largely targeting Cambodia's sex industry have helped lower the country's overall HIV prevalence to 0.9 percent of the 11.5 million population from a peak of 3.7 percent in 1997. But prevention messages have failed to reach MSM, who are now the group most vulnerable to HIV.
"There is a very serious concentrated epidemic among MSM," said Tony Lisle, Cambodia's UNAIDS country coordinator. "All the messages are around heterosexual behavior, particularly brothel-based sex work."
HIV prevalence among MSM is 8.7 percent -- nearly 10 times the general prevalence rate. Rapid rises in other STDs indicate that fewer MSM are practicing safe sex. "The hidden MSM population is significant, and if we don't avert new infections the MSM epidemic could contribute significantly to the overall [HIV] prevalence rate," Lisle said. "There is a lot of stigma and discrimination. [MSM] would never identify themselves and that makes prevention very difficult," said Lisle.
"MSM are at a higher risk of becoming infected with HIV because they usually don't understand how it is transmitted. They think HIV only occurs among men and women who have sex and don't use condoms," said Sum Thy of Family Health International, which has surveyed thousands of men on their sexual behaviors.
Lisle is encouraged, however, by the establishment of a national MSM working group that is attempting to coordinate prevention programs and slow the rate of new infections.
Agence France Presse
10.07.2007; Chan Soratha
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.