Washington Blade - November 22, 2007
FORT LAUDERDALE - In a groundbreaking study released last week,
the Florida Department of Health found that HIV infection rates
are significantly higher than expected among men who have sex
with other men in the state.
The study found that one in every 22 men who have sex with other
men in Florida were HIV positive last year. The study broke down
the data according to race and ethnicity. It found that one in 29
white men, one in 12 black men, one in 18 Latino men and one in
20 Native American or mixed ethnic men were HIV positive.
Senior epidemiologist, Spencer Lieb, said the report is meant to
serve as a "wake up call" at a time when the public is becoming
complacent about the realities of HIV.
"This is acknowledgement that there is a crisis," Lieb said,
referring to the study aimed at MSM titled "Out in the Open."
"It�s nothing new, but it�s time to ramp up prevention activities
and strategies to have positive impact among MSM and reducing the
Lieb said the study is the first attempt to define MSM, an
elusive group of men who are hard to identify because they often
do not identify themselves as gay.
"Nobody had taken a stab at calculating rates by MSM," Lieb said.
The risk level is 10 times greater among MSM compared to men who
do not have sex with other men, Lieb said. Infection rates are
highest in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Hillsborough counties.
Social stigma and homophobia play a major role in the
transmission rates in each of the categories, Lieb said.
"It fuels the epidemic by creating denial of risk and fear of
finding out," Lieb said.
To address the issue, the study recommends a broad-based approach
that includes marketing strategies to keep HIV/AIDS in the public
eye as well as coordinating efforts in each county to reach out
to MSM in specific communities.
The state appointed Lorenzo Robertson to serve as the first
Statewide MSM Coordinator for black men. Similar positions to
coordinate prevention efforts among men who have sex with men are
being appointed throughout the state. Coordinators have already
been appointed in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Lieb said.
The efforts will call public attention to the high infection
rates with the goal of normalizing the idea of HIV testing and
treatment without the stigma, Lieb said.
"We felt if we could put together a report of solid data and
recommendations that it might serve as a wake-up call to mobilize
leaders to form strategies," Lieb said.
The report underscores the need for men who have sex with men to
get tested, Lieb said.
"They are very difficult to reach," Lieb said. "It�s better to
raise consciousness with hard data about infection rates than
Because there is no census data to calculate how many men there
are who have sex with other men, the health department estimated
that 10 percent of the state�s male population engages in sex
with other men.
The state�s health department will be releasing a report Dec. 1
that estimates the number of MSM in Miami-Dade County at 7.5
percent and looks at infection rates, Lieb said.