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Gay Stigma Hinders Tracking AIDS Carriers: Indian Health Minister

by Thilaka Ravi on August 26, 2008 at 4:32 PM
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Gay Stigma Hinders Tracking AIDS Carriers: Indian Health Minister

Indian Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has said that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which disallows homosexuality under unnatural sexual practices, is a major stumbling block in tracking down AIDS carriers for health intervention.

Homosexuals and some Transgenders known as MSM or 'men who have sex with men' have always eluded the government's notice when formulating health policy. Recent studies reveal they are a high-risk group for HIV/AIDS, even more than sex workers.

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Laxminarayan Tripathy, a transgender said, "I hate the way the Indian government is still not looking at the oldest community of transgenders, the kinnars and hijras. Whatever name you want to use. The maximum number of those who are positive are among the hijras, 22 per cent in Bombay. Why can't the government do something about us? Doctors don't touch us. There is free enrolment for medicines but hijras can't access that. There is too much of politics."

Latest figures from the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) show that an estimated 22 million men in India have sex with men.  About 10 percent of them (2.3 million MSM) are estimated to be vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
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About 2,35,000 MSMs and transgenders who are sex workers and are known to have as many as 15 partners, face the highest HIV/AIDS risk.  So far NACO has been able to track only 30, 000 MSMs.

Ashok Row Kavi, a health expert said, "It is now clear MSMs are driving the epidemic but the whole programme is very rigid and it has neglected a whole population because it is invisible." Since a lot many MSMs are married men there is a potential danger of their wives getting infected. If the invisible high-risk group is not tracked down soon enough the AIDS epidemic can seep into the general population in India. 

Source: Medindia
THK/L
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