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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

5/19/2014 (10 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Virus spreads among community that has long been stigmatized by medical community

Homosexual men in Vietnam - those who identify as being gay or bisexual, or men who have sex with men, or MSM are now at a greater risk for both AIDS and the HIV virus. Homosexual men in the country are marginalized and hidden due to societal stigma.

The new spread of the disease is most prevalent in Vietnam's two largest cities: Hanoi, with a population of 6.5 million people and Ho Chi Minh City, home to 7.4 million people.

The new spread of the disease is most prevalent in Vietnam's two largest cities: Hanoi, with a population of 6.5 million people and Ho Chi Minh City, home to 7.4 million people.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/19/2014 (10 months ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: Vietnam, gay men, HIV/AIDS, stigma


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "The evidence clearly shows that MSM in Vietnam are a population at a higher HIV risk that requires focus," Christopher Fontaine, an adviser for the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Vietnam, said.

"Out of all of Vietnam's sub-epidemics, the epidemic among MSM appears to be rising the fastest."

Starvation never takes a vacation --

The new spread of the disease is most prevalent in Vietnam's two largest cities: Hanoi, with a population of 6.5 million people and Ho Chi Minh City, home to 7.4 million people.

According to the 2012 Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance (IBBS) survey, the HIV prevalence rate of MSM in Hanoi soared from 11 to 20 percent, while in Ho Chi Minh City it more than doubled from 6 to 14 percent between 2006 and 2009.

MSM with HIV are primarily seen as an urban problem. High levels of stigma toward men having sex with men across is aiding in the spread of the disease, health experts warn.

"Although same-sex relationships aren't illegal in Vietnam, they are not well accepted by Vietnamese society," Fontaine said. "Men who have sex with men must enter an underground system in order to form sexual relationships. This is a huge barrier to reaching them with HIV services."

Vietnam still lacks an accurate countrywide HIV prevalence rate for MSM as IBBS data was only collected in four "hotspot" cities, three of which had rates of over 10 percent.

One young Vietnamese man has been careful not to reveal his HIV status or sexual orientation. He's afraid of double stigma in a country where people with HIV face discrimination and traditional parents often disown homosexual offspring.

"In my situation, I decided not to share my status," he said. "I'm not sure what kind of difficulties I will face as a gay man with HIV."

The situation makes it particularly hard for outreach workers to debunk false or low perceptions of HIV risk found within Vietnam's MSM population, estimated at 285,000.

"New infections are increasing for MSM but there are a limited number of them seeking services," Son Minh, executive board member of the Vietnamese Network of MSM and Transgender People says.

"It's our biggest concern since we cannot educate them on safe sex."

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