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HIV rates increase drastically among men who have sex with men

Discrimination and a lack of access to health services have sparked an alarming rise in the rate of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men in developing countries, a leading American AIDS research group said Tuesday.

Studies have found that infection rates are growing among men who have sex with men in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and less than five percent of those men have access to HIV-related health care, according to a statistics released by the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR.

"It is estimated that one in 20 men who have sex with men have access to appropriate HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services," Kevin Frost, amFAR's chief executive officer, told reporters. "This is a massive failure of the HIV/AIDS response globally and I think one that needs to be addressed."

Statistics show the rate of infection with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - among men who have sex with men growing exponentially in parts of the developing world.

In Kenya, around 40 percent are estimated to be HIV positive, compared to a 6 percent prevalence in the overall population, according to amFAR. In Senegal nearly 22 percent are thought to be infected, compared to 0.9 percent of the general population.

In Uruguay and Mexico, 21 percent and 15 percent are estimated to have the disease.

"The frightening truth is that, in many parts of the world, we simply do not know how bad the epidemics (are) among" men who have sex with men, Dr. Chris Breyer, director of the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS program, said in a statement. "Transmission ... is still not tracked in most countries."

Under a new initiative launched Tuesday at the Fourth International AIDS Society Conference, amFAR will seek to raise US$300 million (EUR 217 million) over the next three years to provide grants for AIDS education and research among men who have sex with men in developing countries.

The initiative will also aim to raise awareness about the group, who have typically been left out of AIDS prevention strategies because many men are married and do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual.

Male-to-male sex is illegal in 85 countries, meaning that the men who have sex with men often do not receive global AIDS funding because they are effectively marginalized by their own governments, Frost said.

"Empowering (men who have sex with men) and other marginalized groups to protect themselves from HIV is one of the world's most urgent health priorities," said Peter Piot, the executive director of the United Nations' program on AIDS, which is supporting the initiative.

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