Burma: HIV on the Rise Among Men Who Have Sex With Men

Stigma against men who have sex with men (MSM) has complicated efforts to limit the spread of HIV in Burma (Myanmar). According to official data, HIV prevalence among MSM in Burma was 29.3 percent as of 2008, or 42 times higher than the national adult prevalence rate. The Department of Health and the World Health Organization estimate the MSM population in Burma at 280,000 as of 2007.

According to Ko Aye, who conducted a pioneering study in Burma in 2003, stigma against MSM stems from "religious principle or traditional beliefs." However, Aye has observed an improvement in public attitudes because of the "development of information technology."

The Burmese government continues to portray homosexuality as "evil." For example, in February, the prominent Bi-Weekly Eleven Journal ran an article in which supposed medical experts said homosexuality could lead to mental illness and sex crimes. In addition, Section 377 of the Penal Code prohibits homosexuality, with penalties ranging from 10 years to life, plus fines.

Despite this, dozens of local MSM networks exist in major cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay, with local community-based organizations providing these groups with information and counseling services.

"We need to raise awareness among our fellow [MSM] as we are at high risk for HIV infection," said a male sex worker with an entirely male clientele. He is a member of Golden Queen, one of the MSM groups.