Study says gay, bisexual men have 19 times higher HIV risk


MEXICO:Men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, than the general population, yet are ignored in many countries, an Aids group said in a study released on Monday.

The report from the American Foundation for Aids Research suggests the group originally at most risk of the fatal and incurable virus - gay and bisexual men - remain at highest risk, even as the pandemic has broadened to affect women and children as well.

The research foundation examined 128 country reports submitted to the United Nations Aids agency, and found that 44 per cent of countries failed to provide any data on gay and bisexual men.

The study, released at a global Aids conference in Mexico City, concluded that governments and global health agencies had failed to address the growing HIV epidemic among men who have sex with other men - referred to by Aids experts as MSM.

Despite a unanimous commitment from all UN member states in 2001 to monitor HIV among high-risk groups, the report found that 71 per cent of countries said they did not have any information on the percentage of gay and bisexual men reached by HIV prevention programmes.

The research foundation's chief executive, Kevin Frost, said the failure of global health bodies to devote significant resources toward reducing HIV rates among MSM was indefensible. "These organisations have policies on women, drug users, migration - but not one of them has a comprehensive policy on MSM."

The foundation's report identified Kenya, Jamaica, Benin, Thailand and Ghana as the countries with the highest reported percentage of gay and bisexual men infected with HIV. In Latin America the report found gay and bisexual men were 33 times more likely to be infected than the general population.

Addressing the conference, former US president Bill Clinton said the US and other countries needed to reform their healthcare systems to reach the most high-risk groups for Aids.

About 56,300 people in the US contract HIV each year, 40 per cent more than previously estimated, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Hardest hit are black people, of whom 500,000 are infected. "For Americans, this should be a wake-up call that even as we keep working globally, we need to do much more to fight Aids at home, and I intended to do so with my foundation," Mr Clinton said.

Every health clinic should routinely test for HIV, especially in developing countries, where 80 per cent of infected people do not know their status, he added.

- (Reuters/ Bloomberg)