HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men in India: National scenario of an unfinished agenda

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Although India has demonstrated success in the overall reduction of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) incidence by 57% in the past 10 years, its control among men who have sex with men (MSM) remains a critical challenge. This paper describes the current status, geographic variability, and factors associated with HIV among MSM from the national perspective. Methods: Data on the levels and trends of HIV seropositivity and associated risk behaviors among MSM were analyzed and presented from the following data sources: 1) annual HIV Sentinel Surveillance (HSS) conducted during 2003–10, 2) two rounds of the high-risk group size estimation conducted in 2005 and 2009, 3) two rounds of the Behavioral Surveillance Survey conducted in 2006 and 2009, and 4) the Integrated Bio-behavioral Assessment Round 2. Data were analyzed according to selected sociodemographic characteristics and sexual identities of MSM to understand the factors associated with high HIV prevalence. Results: HSS data indicate that at the national level, HIV prevalence among MSM overall is declining (from 12.3% in 2003 to 4.43% in 2010). However, marginal increasing trends were observed in Chandigarh (from 1.4% in 2004 to 2.8% in 2008) and Haryana (from 0% in 2006 to 3.2% in 2008). HSS data indicate high ( > 5%) levels and increasing trends in HIV prevalence among MSM in eight states of India during 2003–10. Analysis of 2010 HSS data indicates that HIV prevalence was > 10% in seven states. The factors associated with high HIV prevalence among MSM were being a kothi (the receptive partner in oral and anal sex, and typically with effeminate mannerisms) or a double-decker (both penetrative and receptive partner) rather than being a panthi (the penetrative partner in oral or anal sex) (8% vs 4.3%; P < 0.05), being older than 25 years in age than their younger counterparts (9% vs 4.5%; P < 0.05), illiterate rather than literate MSM (9.5% vs 6.9%; P < 0.05), and employed versus unemployed MSM (9.1% vs 7.8%; P < 0.05). Conclusion: While HIV prevalence among MSM at the national level is declining, it continues to remain high in some states and cities. Programs need to build on the successes in reducing HIV among female sex workers in order to control the high HIV prevalence among MSM in India.