, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 24 – About 15 percent of all new HIV infections in the country are transmitted by men who have sex with men (MSMs), according to a study conducted in 2008.
Sixty percent of these men are also in heterosexual relationships, the study dubbed Modes of Transmission Survey conducted by a consortium of institutions including the World Bank, UNAIDS and the National AIDS Control Programme shows.
The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS also estimates that at least five to 10 percent of all HIV infections globally occur through male to male sexual activity.
University of Nairobi researcher Preston Izulla says Kenya has largely ignored the link between gay people and HIV transmission and stressed that appropriate intervention measures ought to be taken.
“We cannot talk about HIV prevention in Kenya without considering the MSMs and other marginalised groups like sex workers and fishing communities who contribute to the overall pandemic. We need to address the issue of HIV and MSMs as a health concern and provide proper control actions,” he said.
Dr Izulla also said that evidence showed that MSMs were likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior such as anal intercourse whose risk of HIV transmission was 10 times higher than that of unprotected vaginal sex.
“We have small studies that show high HIV prevalence rates of about 47 percent and low prevalence rates of 12 percent in some regions in comparison to the general seven percent prevalence of HIV in the population. So clearly there is a HIV crisis that is going on among MSMs,” said Dr Izulla.
He explained that the quick transmission of HIV among the MSMs was due to the anal canal’s anatomy.
“The anal canal has a high number of white blood cells that facilitate transmission of HIV; it is also dry and the mucus membrane lining it is thin and could easily be bruised. This is the primary risk when having anal intercourse irrespective of whether it is between a man and a man or a woman and a man,” he said.
The researcher quoted a study conducted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Mombasa that indicated that two thirds of MSMs also had sex with women saying that the risk of transmission cut across the board.
Dr Izulla advocated for proper use of condoms and lubrication as a means of controlling the spread of HIV.
“Water based lubricants are recommended because oil based ones have been known to contribute to condom breakages.”