HIV is most prevalent among gays because of Section 377

Legislation criminalises sex between men

In an eye- opener for the ministry of home affairs, a new assessment by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) reveals that HIV has maximum prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM).

According to the NACO data, HIV prevalence among MSMs is about 7.4 per cent. It is willing to present the report to the home ministry to draw support for a change in Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, which in its current form, criminalises unnatural sex. This section makes it difficult for non- governmental organisations to work with such men. Interventions such as condoms, to prevent spread of the virus, do not reach most MSMs.

The new study has been carried out in 1,136 spots. The next highest HIV prevalence among the high risk groups is among people who inject drugs, followed by female sex workers. The results are in contrast to last estimates, according to which among the high- risk groups, the prevalence was highest among these drug users at 8.71 per cent, followed by MSMs at 5.69 per cent and female sex workers at 5.38 per cent. HIV prevalence in sex workers is coming down, but it is on a rise among MSM, officials said. "This is because the government has intensive intervention programmes among women sex workers to promote use of condom." The risk of HIV transmission among ‘injecting’ drug users would also come down with interventions like needle exchange and oral substitution therapy.

While NACO is all for amending the legislation, the home ministry is against any such change. Non- governmental group, Naz Foundation recently filed apublic interest litigation in Delhi High Court seeking to decriminalise sex between men.

"Reaching out to MSMs is difficult because of Section 377," NACO director general Sujatha Rao said. There are reports that police harass MSMs under this section. The section is also reported to have been used to harass NGOs working among MSMs to promote safe sex. "It (Section 377) is aviolation of people’s rights. We have requested that consenting adults should not be included in this section," Anjali Gopalan from Naz Foundation said.

Savita Verma, for Mail Today

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