UN: HIV increasing among homosexuals

08:54, March 17, 2010      

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New HIV infections are increasing among homosexuals, drug users and prostitutes who don't seek help because of laws that criminalize these practices, the head of the UN AIDS agency said on Monday.

Michel Sidibe, the head of UNAIDS, said it was "unacceptable" that 85 countries still have laws criminalizing same sex relations among adults, including seven that impose the death penalty for homosexual practices.

He called a proposed Ugandan law that would impose the death penalty for some gays "very unfortunate" and said he hoped it would never be approved. At a time when UNAIDS is scaling up its program and seeking universal access to HIV treatment, Sidibe said, "You have also a growing conservatism which is making me very scared." Such attitudes could only worsen the situation, he warned. "We must insist that the rights of the minorities are upheld. If we don't do that ... I think the epidemic will grow again," he said.

Speaking to journalists at a luncheon hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Sidibe said that about 33 percent of new HIV infections are in men having sex with men. In contrast in the Caribbean where most countries don't have repressive laws, there are between 3 and 6 percent of HIV infections amongst male homosexuals. But even in the United States, where laws are not restrictive and the gay community was the first to tackle AIDS, Sidibe said it is "shocking" that more than 50 percent of new HIV infections last year occurred among homosexuals. And he said in the 19-25 age bracket the infection rate was even higher.

"It seems like we have come full circle" in the United States, Sidibe said. "After almost no cases a few years ago we are seeing again this new peak among people who are not having access to all the information, the protection that is needed."

The head of UNAIDS said that a lack of education as well as complacency were to blame for increased HIV infections. This was not just a problem in the U.S., but in Europe and Africa as well. In addition an increase in the use of injected drugs was adding to the problem, Sidibe said.

"You have 70 percent of new infections occurring in Eastern Europe and Central Asia among drug users, but they are criminalized," he said. "They don't have access to services. They have to hide themselves and go underground." Of the 16 million people in the world who are injecting drugs, almost 3 million are HIV positive, and among them less than 4 percent have access to treatment and less than 8 percent have access to services, Sidibe said.

The rise in the number of HIV infections is causing concern among gay groups who believe intolerance towards homosexuals will increase. Research findings released by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) show that 15.2 percent of new HIV infections are being reported among homosexuals.

Also worrying is that 60 percent of these homosexuals engage in sex with married men, a trend that places a large number of Kenyans at risk. Such behavior is likely to fuel attacks on gay men. Two weeks ago, police in Mtwapa rescued six gay men who were alleged to have been planning a wedding for one of the couples from a lynch mob. The mob was also restrained from burning a Kemri research clinic in the town.

In the Middle East, HIV amongst homesexuals has also risen sharply according to recent reports revealed at the 19th Gathering of the Directors of National AIDS Programs in Beirut. Lebonaon's Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh said the national program had succeeded in keeping Lebanon as one of the few countries with a low percentage of HIV infections. But he acknowledged more work still needed to be done.

"We must work on developing the national AIDS strategy, which focuses mostly on the youths and on ages most at risk of infection … We must also focus on people most at risk such as sex workers, homosexuals, drug abusers and prisoners," Khalifeh said.

Source: Xinhua

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