When AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) struck the world it was known as the gay disease. The homosexual community was blamed for the advent of the deadly virus. Up to this day, homosexual men are still being blamed for bringing AIDS on the face of the earth. However at about the same time HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was discovered in America, a different type of the virus was on the African continent and spreading predominantly heterosexually. The first cases of AIDS were amongst the gay population and sadly up to this day the gay community still have a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS compared to the heterosexual communities. One of the key issues attributing to the high prevalence is homophobia. Homophobia has been shown to negatively influence health seeking behaviour due to fear of arrest, disclosure and humiliation. Homophobia also results in the affected communities being denied of access to health information and services.
However the main focus of this article will be on behavioral factors that promote spread of HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Illnesses (STI). The main STIs associated with the homosexual community are HIV and Hepatitis B. Unprotected Anal sex is known to have a higher risk of HIV and STI transmission than vaginal sex. The main reasons are increased risk of tearing of the surrounding tissue resulting in more possible routes of transmission. The lack of adequate natural lubrication is responsible for the risk of tear and trauma. The same applies to anal penetration in heterosexual sex.
The second reason is multiple sexual partners. Men who sleep with men are notorious for being promiscuous. It is unfortunate that the stereotype holds some water. Multiple sexual partners increase the spread of HIV and chances of contracting STIs and HIV. This is also applies to heterosexuals.
STIs make the infected parties vulnerable to further infection. They cause disruption of skin resulting in more routes of transmission of the disease causing pathogens. The above mentioned issues increase risk of STI transmission amongst the homosexual community, perpetuating HIV transmission.
Kaposi Sarcoma was known as the gay cancer. Kaposi Sarcoma is a common amongst the immunocompromised. More cases amongst men who sleep with men could be attributed to a high prevalence of HIV. HIV weakens one’s immune system making them vulnerable to infections not commonly seen amongst the healthy population. Another common cancer amongst people who practise anal sex is rectal cancer. Risk of rectal cancer like cervical cancer is due to exposure to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus which causes genital warts.
What does this mean for the gay community? You can effectively prevent yourself from being one of the static by
- Practising safe sex.
Avoid having unprotected sex. Always use condoms especially when you are not aware of either yours or your partner’s HIV and STI status. Use water based lubricants as affect they are friendly to latex condoms. Lubrication also contributes to more comfortable sex and reduces the risk of tissue trauma. Therefore it reduces risk of HIV and STI transmission
- Avoid multiple sexual partners.
Monogamous relationships decrease your exposure to HIV and other STIs, assuming that both partners are faithful. However it is recommended that you continue having protected sex even in monogamous relationships.
- Know your HIV status.
It is important that you constantly get tested and to know your partner’s HIV and STI status before engaging in sexual intercourse.
- If you get infected by an STI seek early treatment and avoid any sexual contact until you are completely treated and no longer infectious according to your healthcare provider. Inform your sexual partners and advise them to also seek medical attention.
- There is now HIV pre- exposure and post exposure prophylaxis. Visit your local pharmacy on information of availability of such. Prophylaxis is important when your partner is HIV positive or if you fall under the high risk group.
- If you are HIV positive it is recommended that you are initiated on anti-retroviral therapy. It helps in not only boosting your immune system but decreases your viral load therefore reducing your risk of transmitting the virus to your partners. Practise safe sex to avoid reinfection especially with resistant strains. Adhere to your treatment because a strong immune system decreases your chances of getting opportunistic infections and diseases like Kaposi Sarcoma
- The homosexual community is at risk of getting hepatitis B, which is sexual transmitted Therefore It is recommended that you get a Hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine is available at health care providers, immunisation and travel vaccine centres.
- Recently most countries having been rolling out the HPV vaccine. However in most developing countries it is been made available mainly to adolescent girls. Enquire with your local pharmacy and health care providers about the availability of the vaccine
- Be informed.
Your health is your responsibility. We are living in the information age. Take time to deliberately educate yourself about your health
- If your community has organisations which represent the LGBTIQ community, pay them a visit and they will inform you about LGBTIQ friendly local healthcare centres and available resources
NB. The above information should not replace your doctor’s advice. Always consult your health care provider for clarity.