MSM and HIV in Ghana
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has also brought about a shift in some social mores, as it forced us to begin discussions of taboo topics such as sex. As a result, health services have been extended to prostitutes, long considered social outcasts.
However, one aspect of our society that has either not been recognised, or is being denied, but which could reverse any gain made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, is same-sex sex particularly men that have sex with men (MSM) since sex is the commonest mode of transmission of HIV.
This study was intended to assess the MSM situation in and around Accra, Ghana, so as to make recommendations for the introduction of measures to control sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV/AIDS among MSM, in support of the national response to the HIV/AIDS menace.
In all 156 questionnaires were returned. Six were considered inconsistent or unreliable and were discarded from the analysis.
2. Youth are actively being drawn into MSM activities by their peers and older colleagues and relatives, most of them at a very young age
3. MSM in Ghana cut across all social classes, religions, and ethnicities. Married men are involved
4. It is practically happening everywhere, particularly where people gather for celebrations and merry making in urban areas, along with other places most people would never suspect
5. There are many prevailing factors that make MSM attractive particularly to youths, including adventure-seeking, poverty, ignorance, lure of older gays looking for partners and the belief that anal sex is safer than vaginal sex
6. Society's reaction to gays and homosexuality has driven them underground where it difficult to provide them with health services
The current state of affairs comes with a high price that could potentially set back the national response to HIV/AIDS. This is seen in the following:
1. Very poor knowledge of STIs other than gonorrhoea and HIV
A large majority of respondents will welcome the introduction of curative and preventive interventions, and have suggested ways of making this possible.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In the short-term, a confidence-building programme should be initiated with NGOs working with the gay community and youths to start developing and implementing both curative and preventive services around the existing STI Clinics. Health workers in these clinics should be re-oriented in the management of MSM related health problems, and members of the gay community invited and trained as peer educators.
In the long term, the health sector and its partners should work with other sectors including the judiciary, the media, and public to remove all obstacles to resource mobilisation for the successful and smooth implementation of health interventions for MSM.
The challenges posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic are real and require very pragmatic solutions. Ghana cannot afford to fail in this regard and should seize the opportunity to act now.
Dr. Dela Attipoe
This study, originally entitled, "Revealing the Pandora Box or Playing the Ostrich?: A Situational Appraisal of Men Having Sex With Men in The Accra Metropolitan Area and its Environs - Ghana" received funding from the Canadian International Development Agency and was commissioned by the West Africa Project to Combat HIV/AIDS and STI (WAPCAS).