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Public health to focus on men who have sex with men

Ethnic minority MSM face especially high burdens on their health and wellbeing

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 04 February 2015

Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are facing health and wellbeing inequalities that public health must do more to tackle, Public Health England (PHE) declared this morning. It also revealed that black and ethnic minority MSM face more domestic abuse and are less likely to have been tested for sexually transmitted infections than white men.

PHE said that in three areas – sexual health and human immunodeficiency virus, mental health, and use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco – MSM face disproportionate burdens of ill health. It launched its action plan to tackle these problems, at today’s Improving the Health and Wellbeing of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People and Communities conference.

The research quoted by PHE shows that MSM are still the group most affected by HIV; they are twice as likely as other men to suffer from depression or anxiety; they are twice as likely to be dependent on alcohol, and more likely to smoke, than other men; they have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, asthma and diabetes; and they are less likely to go to health and social care services for help, and less likely to tell those who provide their care about their sexual identity.

PHE also cited evidence that only 7% of black gay and bisexual men have got themselves tested for any sexually transmitted infection, compared with 26% of white gay and bisexual men; a third of Asian men and mixed ethnicity men have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16 compared with a fifth of white gay and bisexual men. Black and ethnic minority MSM also have significantly higher rates of suicide, self-harm and mental illness.

PHE’s 18-month action plan includes cutting the number of new HIV infections, reducing the gap between MSM and other men in rates of self-reported mental ill health, reducing the rate of harmful drinking and use of harmful substances among MSM, and cutting smoking rates in MSM.

PHE’s director of health and wellbeing Professor Kevin Fenton said: “Despite vast improvements in social acceptance over the years, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people continue to face discrimination. As a result, this community faces barriers in accessing health services, and remain disproportionately burdened with ill-health.

“This structured programme of action will work with and support the public health system, private and third sector organisations to actively respond to the needs of these communities locally.”

PHE’s expert adviser on HIV, sexual health and reproductive health Professor Jane Anderson added: “Men who have sex with men are amongst those most affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the UK, and numbers continue to rise. If we are to make a real impact on the HIV epidemic and improve sexual health it is crucial that we tackle the wider determinants of health set out in this framework.”

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