A small study has found a very high HIV rate among gay men in Johannesburg and Durban.

Over 40 percent of men who have sex with men were HIV positive, suggesting a “hidden epidemic” among this group.

This is according to results from a survey of 266 men in Johannesburg and Durban, the vast majority of whom were black, under the age of 25 and identified as gay rather than bisexual.

The survey, released at the 4th SA AIDS Conference, also found high levels of coerced sex. Over one in three men (36 %) reported being forced to have sex against their will and close on a third (30%) admitted forcing someone to have sex with them.

Unprotected anal sex, one of the riskiest sexual practices for transmitting HIV, was common with almost half (46%) of the men admitting to condom-less sex in the past year.

Sex for goods or money was common, with 43% of men having received goods in exchange for sex and 29% having given. In addition, three-quarters of men had sex when they were drunk.

The survey was conducted by the Centre for Health Policy at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

“Men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to face stigma, discrimination and a lack of acceptance from society, including health care workers. This may affect their willingness to seek health care, and to give full and accurate health histories,” according to Professor Laetitia Rispel, who led the study together with Dr Carol Metcalf.

The researchers recommend that government develop a surveillance system for most-at-risk populations, including MSM and develops a campaign to target this group to educate them about HIV risk, promote HIV testing and provide them with condoms.

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