October 19, 2010
When a Cuban project to prevent HIV among men who have sex with men began 10 years ago, it was breaking new territory. MSM in Cuba were socially marginalized at the time of its first HIV/AIDS diagnosis in 1986, and the island's compulsory quarantine of those infected lasted into the early 1990s. Among other challenges, reaching MSM required overcoming years of state-sponsored homophobia.
"Although homosexuality had been mentioned before, up to that point no work had been done with men," said Raúl Regueiro, co-founder of the MSM-Cuba program.
"It was the first time the people most affected by HIV/AIDS participated in a program that was focused on educating people and on other aspects as well," said Regueiro, who works with the UN Development Program on HIV in Cuba. "By using peer education as a tool, [MSM] themselves urged each other to practice safe sex."
Of Cuba's 13,000 recorded HIV cases, eight in 10 are men. Of these men, over 80 percent are MSM, including 60 percent who are bisexual.
Today, the national MSM-Cuba program has 1,700 volunteer outreach workers in 14 provinces. It also has contributed significantly to research on sexual minorities. A 2006 study estimated the project had prevented about 3,000 infections among men. Though the rate of consistent condom use was still below 75 percent in 2003, studies in 2006 and 2009 found an increase in MSM's condom use with regular and casual partners. In addition, researchers are seeing a trend toward MSM living with stable partners.