Research conducted in Malawi, Namibia and Botswana has revealed that men who have sex with men (MSM) in these Southern African countries are at a greater risk of contracting HIV than the rest of the population.

The study found that in Malawi, for example, 21 percent of the respondents were HIV positive, compared to the national rate of 14 percent.

It is thought that this higher risk is in part because MSM’s behaviour is often secretive due the criminalisation of homosexuality. Governments also fail to target this group in their HIV/Aids education and prevention strategies and campaigns.

According to the study, unprotected anal intercourse was common among the respondents and the use of petroleum-based lubricants was also common when using condoms.

Human rights abuses, including blackmail and denial of housing and health care was prevalent with 42.1% (222/527) reporting at least one abuse.

The research was presented at the human rights conference of the recent World Outgames. Despite the fact that MSM are fearful about being identified, 537 anonymous men were found to participate in the study.

“The men were reluctant to attend the workshops that we conducted as part of the study. Some did not want to be interviewed either,” one of the authors of the study, Gift Trapence, told IPS in an interview.

The report suggests that these countries should initiate and adequately fund evidence-based and targeted HIV prevention programs for MSM.

The study found that only 1.5 percent of the men asked had ever been told by a health professional that they are HIV positive, while 77 percent have never been asked by a health professional to undergo an HIV test.

Only 10 percent have ever disclosed to a health professional that they have sex with men.

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