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Homosexuals in Pakistan at High Risk of HIV Infection

Researchers advocate policy changes to promote safe sex among men who have sex with men

TUESDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Although homosexuality is prohibited in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is widely practiced and men who have sex with men are at high risk of HIV infection. Policy changes are needed in Pakistan to reach this vulnerable population, according to an article published in the August issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Alefiyah Rajabali, a medical student at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, and colleagues conducted a database search for published literature on men who have sex with men in Pakistan and also relied on unindexed journals and newsletters from the Pakistan Infection Control Society, Pakistan AIDS Prevention Society, and Naz Foundation International, as well as reports from the Pakistan National AIDS Control Programme and UNAIDS. The authors also went to several homosexual communities in Karachi to interview homosexual and bisexual men.

The researchers found that the official number of reported HIV cases in Pakistan increased from 1,913 in 2002 to 85,000 in 2005, and that men who have sex with men accounted for 7 percent of cases. They also found that men who have sex with men were likely to be unaware or have misconceptions about HIV/AIDS because of their marginalization in Pakistani society.

"The greater national challenge appears to be the integration of HIV policy in the constitution," the authors write. "Carrying a condom is a crime in the country, which makes the distribution and use of condoms a thorny matter. Legal restrictions are being relaxed for injection drug users -- the distribution of free disposable syringes is now allowable among them -- and similar changes need to be extended to promote safe sex in the men who have sex with men population. As insurmountable as the challenge may seem, this will only occur when advocacy is used to sensitize policy makers, politicians and religious figures in the country."

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