Infection rates in gay/bi men
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
August 28th, 2009
Those leading the fight against AIDS and anti-gay activists sometimes have a common goal: portray the incidence of HIV in gay and bisexual men in the most frightening terms. This appears to me to be what is happening as the result of a presentation at the National HIV Prevention Conference (Southern Voice)
Gay and bisexual men account for half of the new HIV infections in the U.S. and have AIDS at a rate more than 50 times greater than other groups, according to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention data presented at the National HIV Prevention Conference this week in Atlanta.
That’s a pretty frightening statistic. But perhaps the raw numbers give it some perspective.
Dr. Amy Lansky of the CDC presented research at the Aug. 24 plenary in which the CDC estimated in the U.S. there were 692.2 new HIV cases in 2007 per 100,000 men who have sex with men (MSM).
In other words, the rate of new infections in the population of gay and bisexual men in 2007 was 0.69%. Or in 2007 one out of every 144 gay/bi men seroconverted.
That still is very high. And it is consistent with our calculations that about 12% of gay/bi men (or about 6% of all gay/bi people) are infected with HIV. (So play safe kids… or better yet, find someone to have and hold from this day forward.)
But, in those terms, perhaps it isn’t quite as scary as the somewhat meaningless announcement that “MSM are 50 times more likely to have AIDS than women and non-gay or bisexual men.” I think most of us already know that sexually active gay men, especially those unpartnered, are at a much higher risk of HIV than Grandpa Joe and Grandma Sally.
And I wonder at the wisdom of making announcements of such comparisons. Provided without context, this quote can seem counter-intuitive. A gay man with both gay and straight friends might think that such ratios do not reflect their observations. And using language that feels out of sync with the realities of the experiences of gay men will not encourage better behavior; rather it will cause the target audience to dismiss the information.
Further it may distract from the fact that HIV transmission is not homogeneous within the gay community; some age, ethnic, and geographic subgroups need and deserve much more attention and focus in our battle against HIV/AIDS. Making statement that sound as though “HIV is a gay disease” misses the picture and downplays the tragic way in which this virus has devastated some gay communities – especially minority and economically challenged subsets – far worse than the “Will and Grace” gay man.
Such declarations also run the risk of providing a false sense of security to others in the non-gay-male category who live in communities which are disproportionately impacted by this disease. And it may encourage those responsible for shepherding resources to overlook, for example, sexually-active single black women in specific urban settings.
So while I strongly support that accurate information be presented and disseminated as widely as possible, I’d caution those who make statements about this disease to consider that their words not only be factually correct but also convey messages that are not confusing or counter-productive.