One in every three gay men in southern Africa HIV positive – report

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

WHILE data on men who have sex with men (sometimes referred to as MSM) in East and Southern Africa is limited, HIV prevalence ranges from 3.8% in Angola to 36% in South Africa.

This is according to a 2017 UNAIDS HIV and Women Report published few days ago.

“Overall, one in three men who have sex with men is living with HIV in the region,” reads the report.

“HIV transmission between men who have sex with men accounted for 6% of new infections in the region in 2014.

“However, evidence suggests the majority of the region’s men who have sex with men also engage in heterosexual sex, often with wives or other long-term female partners.

“The HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men is therefore interlaced with the epidemic in the wider population.”

According to the report, condom use between 2011 and 2015 exceeded 70% in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda, and was above 50% in Comoros, Lesotho, Madagascar and Mauritius.

ESwatini, Uganda and Tanzania reported 46%, 39% and 14% respectively.

However, specific programmes for this group are extremely limited and constrained by widespread homophobia and, in some countries, the criminalisation of same-sex practices.

On Transgender, the report said no country in the region has national data on HIV among transgender people.

“However, it is thought that prevalence among this group is extremely high,” the report said.

“Improving data and disaggregating data on transgender people from data relating to men who have sex with men is critical to improve health outcomes for this group.”

In Zimbabwe, homosexual acts are illegal and as a consequence of this punitive policies, national statistics are rarely available.

“Criminalising men who have sex with men drives this vulnerable group away from HIV services,” the report said.

“As a result, many do not know their HIV status, let alone access treatment.”

However, Zimbabwean gay representative groups do exist in the country.

They include the Gays and Lesbians Zimbabwe (GALZ).

UNAIDS reported in 2017 that just one in seven men who have sex with men in Zimbabwe (14.1%) are aware of their status.

International donors such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis and PEPFAR have attempted to ensure some of their funding is directed towards men who have sex with men.