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Kenya To Launch MSM Survey To Help Control Spread Of HIV

TIME examines the Kenyan government’s upcoming survey of gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the country’s “three biggest cities” in an effort to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. The survey, which will launch next year, “is considered a landmark because the government and the vast majority of Kenyan people have long refused to address homosexuality in the fight against AIDS,” the magazine writes.

“Sex between men is illegal in Kenya — punishable by up to 14 years in prison — and is seen by many as a Western-imported, morally wrong behavior that is limited to areas visited by tourists.” The survey will be supported by funding from PEPFAR, TIME reports.

“It will be a tricky issue that is likely to polarize everybody,” said Nicholas Muraguri, director of the National AIDS/STI Control Program (NASCOP), which will lead the study. “But what we are saying is that we cannot as a country socially exclude these groups and hope that we will win the war against HIV at the same time.”

For the survey, “[t]he researchers will ask a series of behavioral questions to men who have sex with men starting next year in Nairobi, the western city of Kisumu and the coastal city of Mombasa. They will also try to estimate the number of men who are HIV-positive or have sexually transmitted diseases,” TIME writes. “What we’ve primarily been slowed by is just not having the clear sense of where those populations are centered in the country and where socially and otherwise we can most effectively reach them,” explained Warren Buckingham, Kenya coordinator for PEPFAR.

The article details discrimination of MSM in Kenya and how it contributes to the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The article also examines the fears among some that the government survey would expose MSMs against their will, and how such fears may skew the survey data (Wadhams, 11/7).

“There have been few studies on HIV among MSM in Kenya; a survey of 285 men in Mombasa in 2007 found an HIV prevalence of 43 percent among men who had sex with men exclusively, compared with 12.3 percent among men who had sex with both men and women. Kenya’s national HIV prevalence is 7.4 percent,” PlusNews reports.

“Lorna Dias, MSM coordinator at Liverpool VCT (voluntary counselling and testing), Care and Treatment, one of the only organizations in the country that provides services to MSM, says the planned survey shows that the government is serious about tackling the epidemic among [the] most at-risk populations,” the news service writes.

“It is a positive step and a clear indication that the government is ready to open up to the reality that men who have sex with men pose a great risk to the war against HIV unless they are integrated within mainstream HIV and AIDS programmes,” she said. “The next step should be to de-stigmatize them and see them as normal people who need services like everybody else.”

The article includes quotes from MSMs about the survey (11/9).