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Discrimination Keeps HIV Rates High Among Gay Men Worldwide

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HIV cases among gay and bisexual men continue to be a growing problem in many areas worldwide due to discriminatory laws and lack of access to preventive measures, new research has found.

Dr. Chris Beyrer, lead on the study and professor of public health and human rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, said in a US News report, “While HIV rates have flattened overall in recent years, we’re really concerned that the HIV epidemic is continuing among gay men and we’re going in the wrong direction.”

Beyrer, who is president of the International AIDS Society, added, “It’s painful that the history of AIDS is looking like its future, but that’s actually where we are.” He said the first step towards rectifying that problem is to recognize and express it aloud, which is something the study has done.

The same researchers planned to stem the HIV epidemic in gay men four years ago. Among other items, the project pushed for policy reforms and improvements in HIV prevention, including more access to pre-exposure medications.

For this recent study, the researchers examined medical studies published from January 2007 to October 2015 to see if there were any improvements. According to their findings, very little was present.

HIV rates are reportedly decreasing among heterosexual men and women in many countries. A lot of HIV patients are also able to live with the virus for many years due to antiretroviral treatments. But among gay men, the same isn’t true, even for those in middle- and high-income countries, the study said.

A $100 million investment fund from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has been set up for groups that are at high risk, which includes gay and bisexual men. Several other countries have approved or initiated similar projects for better access to preventive treatment among gay men, the researchers stated.

However, on a large scale, preventive services are not reaching gay men who are HIV-negative, putting them at a higher risk for infection.

The loss of civil rights among gay people in countries such as Russia, Uganda and Nigeria has also contributed to high HIV rates in gay and bisexual men.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in the US, a 20-year-old black gay man has a 50% chance of becoming HIV-positive in his lifetime. Americans with insurance have immediate access to effective preventive treatments, but high HIV rates remain among gay men in low-income, southern minority communities where Medicaid coverage has not been extended, the researchers noted.

In many countries, sexual relations between men is still considered a crime. Some websites providing information on HIV have even been shut down in a few parts of the world.

Beyrer said that these epidemics are largely brought on by “stigma and discrimination.” He said, “In many countries, these men are just not welcome in health clinics and the fear of discrimination stands in the way of not only treatment, but even just the testing that can go a long way toward stemming the spread of disease.”

The researchers are now expecting Mexico, the Netherlands and Argentina to broaden the scope of preventive HIV treatments, and hope that countries with anti-gay laws will soon change their minds.

Beyrer said that ongoing efforts to address the HIV epidemic is not enough. “This must change if we are ever to ever truly achieve an AIDS-free generation.”

The study was published in The Lancet.

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