Gay men in hiding - Avoiding health care because of stigma, survey suggests

Published: Wednesday | March 11, 2009


Petrina Francis, Staff Reporter

AS DEBATE stirs over the Jamaican Government's insistence on retaining legislation against buggery, homosexual men continue to suffer from discriminatory acts which make it difficult for them to seek health care in the country, a study has indicated.

A 2008 survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health showed 31.8 per cent of gay men in Jamaica are living with HIV. Another 8.5 per cent were found with chlamidia, 2.5 per cent had gonorrhoea and 5.5 per cent had syphilis.

According to a release from the Caribbean HIV & AIDS Alliance (CHAA), the high number of sexually transmitted infections among gay men, sometimes termed men who have sex with men (or MSM), is linked to the way they are treated by the law and members of the general population, including those in the health sector.

"Many MSM are not secure in themselves and so put themselves at risk by having multiple partners," an MSM peer educator, who requested anonymity, said.

That claim was corroborated by the MSM survey. Some 27.7 per cent reported having two or more sexual partners in the last four weeks; 25.9 per cent had a new partner in the past four weeks; 28.8 per cent had a female partner in the past four weeks; 15.9 per cent live with a female partner; and 33.8 per cent had two or more female partners in the past 12 months.

Discrimination

The peer educator explained that even with the high level of sexually transmitted infections, MSM are reluctant to go to health-care providers, as they fear discrimination.

"Our main problem is that based on the law, we have problems interacting with each other. There are no safes spaces," the source said.

Devon Cammock, targeted intervention co-coordinator at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), explained that even when meetings were convened, MSM shy away from them or hide their sexuality. This makes it difficult to conduct programmes that are needed in the community.

Through funding from the non-governmental organisation, Caribbean HIV and AIDS Alliance, the JASL has been conducting voluntary counselling, testing programmes and peer education training with MSM.

The CHAA, which was launched in Jamaica yesterday, will continue to work in close partnership with JASL, as well as other key regional and national institutions, governments and donors, on various activities to empower MSM and other vulnerable communities.