A new study shows that the rising rate of AIDS infections in some Muslim nations is being “driven by men having sex with other men in secret because of homophobia, religious intolerance and fear of being jailed or executed.” Homosexuality is almost universally condemned in Muslim countries and punished brutally in most parts of the Middle East. The report, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, found:
About 2 to 3 percent of men in the region have sex with other men, consistent with global averages, the study found. But condom use is low, gay and bisexual prostitution is common, and many married men hide their bisexuality and risk infecting their wives. In some countries, even male prostitutes often marry for appearances’ sake.
Truck drivers, prisoners and street children often have high rates of H.I.V. infection; in Pakistan, infection rates are rising rapidly among transgender prostitutes known as hijra.
The lowest rates of condom use were reported in populous countries like Egypt and Pakistan, while they were highest in Sudan (above), Oman and Lebanon.
Research has found a similar trend in the African American community, where gay men also suffer from disproportionately high HIV/AIDS rates. One study found that “when compared to white adults, a higher number of African Americans believe that homosexuality is ‘always wrong’” and “twice as many black MSM than white MSM share the sentiment.” That kind of prejudice can result in isolation, harassment and lead gay men to engage in risky or underground sexual behaviors.
In some nations, men don’t even know how the virus can be transmitted. According to one activist in Africa — where homophobia is contributing to higher infection rates — men understand “that you can get HIV/AIDS from having sex with a woman, but not from a man.”