Stigma drives transmission

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08 Sep 2015

A European study shows that homophobic cultures are more likely to have higher rates of undiagnosed HIV. Researchers have found that countries that have laws specifically disenfranchising sexual minorities tend to have larger numbers of gay and bisexual men unaware they are HIV-positive. “Our findings,” said Dr Ford Hickson, co-author of the study, “suggest that stigma might increase the rate of new HIV infections.”

A country’s homophobia was assessed by measuring supportive legislation against discriminatory policies. Russia and Ukraine were found to be the most prejudiced countries against LGBTI people, while Sweden topped the list as the most supportive. The study showed clear evidence that stigma was associated with increased HIV risk with homophobic cultures more likely to have inadequate HIV services, lack of HIV knowledge and lower rates of testing. 

Discriminatory laws, said Hickson, meant men who have sex with men (MSM) “are kept ignorant, under-resourced and poorly skilled when dealing with sex and HIV”. The study — involving 175,000 MSM living in 38 European countries — concluded that HIV prevention strategies can only work if people are able to be open about their sexuality and honest about their sexual history.