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Homosexuals bridge group' for HIV/AIDS

Homosexuals bridge group' for HIV/AIDS

The only detailed study into the prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted

diseases among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Phnom Penh, has found HIV infection

rates more than five times higher than the national average.

Of the 206 men interviewed during the June 2000 study, which was carried out by NGO

Family Health International/Impact (FHI) and funded by USAID, 14.4 percent were HIV

positive. That compares with a national adult average of 2.6 percent.

Sexual behavior, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV among men who have

sex with men in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is a draft report done in 2000. Despite the

fact that it was written two years ago, neither it nor a 1999 preliminary mapping

report have yet been made public.

That will change later this month, says FHI's program manager Pratin Dharmarak. Public

understanding of both HIV/AIDS and MSM has since increased and it is now 'timely'

that the findings are released.

The survey identifies MSM as particularly vulnerable to HIV because of their sexual

behavior, pointing out that their complex sexual networks contribute to the infection

both of high and low risk groups.

"MSM should be considered a group at high risk of HIV infection because of a

significant proportion who reported unprotected anal intercourse and multiple sexual

partners," it states.

Although it was not FHI's intention to focus on males who sold sex, 82.8 percent

of respondents were sex workers, and only 47 percent of them reported using condoms

consistently with male clients.

Eighty-one percent reported having anal sex with male partners and 61.2 percent said

they had had vaginal sex with female partners in the six months prior to the interview.

Around 43 percent of respondents said they had engaged in penetrative sex with both

male and female partners during the past six months.

"MSM may serve as a bridge group in Cambodia - a higher risk population that

can link HIV to the general population," it states.

The average age of survey respondents was 24. Just over half were unemployed, while

the most common occupations were laborers and street/market vendors. Almost one quarter

of MSM said they had experienced "harassment or coercion" because they

had sex with men.

FHI says more research is necessary to determine the size of the MSM population.

"The size of the MSM population needs to be studied in order to understand its

impact on the epidemic," says Dharmarak. "This group is one of the most

vulnerable to HIV and requires sensitivity, acceptance and understanding."

Overall 26.5 percent of respondents tested positive for at least one STI, including

HIV, while syphilis infection rates stood at 5.5 percent. The study concludes that

"interventions should be a priority among this group as HIV and syphilis have

entered the population in a significant way".

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