India: How stigma prevents Delhi’s gay men from getting tested for HIV

When the news broke that India’s Supreme Court had struck down a colonial-era law making gay sex illegal, the reaction in Delhi was jubilant, with public celebrations erupting across the capital.

Fast forward four months, and HIV/Aids charities are finding the old stigma and prejudice against members of the LGBT+ community are stubbornly refusing to go away. The Alliance has identified MSM as a key at-risk group being left behind in the country’s response to HIV, threatening India’s goal of meeting the UN’s “90-90-90” pledge by 2020. HIV prevalence rates are around 16 times higher in this group compared to the general public.

Intense societal pressure to get married at a young age makes the matter worse, Ms Aher says. Alliance estimates that 60 per cent of their MSM clients also have wives, making it very difficult to get them to open up about unsafe sex practices.

Groups like the Alliance are having to come up with innovative ways to reach men having sex with men, to let them know that they are at risk of HIV and need to get tested.

One option is to take advantage of the explosion of smartphone use in urban India. It is now thought that more than 50 per cent of all men in large cities like Delhi are online, and popular apps like Facebook, Grindr, WhatsApp and Instagram offer access to untapped communities that have never been subject to HIV outreach before.

Online trials have had very promising results. After a one-month test run with a social media consultant, the Alliance found the rate of clients getting tested at its Delhi clinic who heard about the service online rose from 6 per cent to 45 per cent.

Another agency using funding from EJAF has launched the website Safe Masti, which includes India’s first anonymous online chat service for MSM seeking more information about safe sex. Read more via the Independent