New research out of Lebanon on men who have sex with men. Objective: Little is known about HIV prevalence and risk among men who have sex with men in much of the Middle East, including Lebanon. Recent national level surveillance has suggested an increase in HIV prevalence concentrated among men in Lebanon. We undertook a biobehavioral study to provide direct evidence for the spread of HIV.
Relatively little research is carried out with key populations in the Middle East. Heimer and colleagues also used respondent driven sampling (with the same potential biases as above) to recruit 292 men who have sex with men in Beirut. Although one quarter of the participants had been born in Syria and moved recently to Lebanon, the sampling method does reduce the precision of this estimate. Of 36 people living with HIV identified, 32 were on HIV treatment, which is encouraging. If the 32 on treatment were virally suppressed, the prevalence of “infectious HIV” in the survey was around 1.4%.
As we move forward into the viral load era, notions of risk for sexual behaviour will change, and we need to think about explicit descriptions such as “condomless sex” rather than simply referring to “unprotected sex”. As stated above, the benefits of condoms for other sexually transmitted infections as well as for HIV need to be emphasized and the full range of ARV-based prevention made available in order to minimize the epidemic of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Lebanon and beyond.