By Gatonye Gathura
A high number of minors are being sucked into gay prostitution networks including through online platforms, shows a report by the Ministry of Health.
The ministry says this is of concern especially because those operating online are at an extremely high risk of HIV infection.
HIV infection rate among ‘virtual gays,’ the report says is three times higher than in those operating in the traditional physical sites like bars, streets, and brothels.
The report published in June, by the ministry and several foreign universities, shows boys are getting into gay prostitution for financial gain when they are well below 15 years.
The study is done by the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) of the Ministry of Health, University of Manitoba, and University of Toronto both of Canada.
Others include the Imperial College London, UK, and several LGBT advocacy groups in Kisumu, Kiambu, Mombasa, and Nairobi.
The study was assessing HIV rates among gay sex workers from Kisumu, Mombasa, and Kiambu and especially those on virtual platforms.
“Virtual spaces have become common ways to meet sex partners among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Kenya,” says the study.
The study had recruited 1,200 MSM who have sex for pay; 400 from each of the three counties.
While the study participants were aged over15 years, more than a third had got involved in the trade while still minors – before they were 18.
Ten per cent of the participants reported getting involved when younger than 15 years with a significant number operating on virtual networks.
But most worrying, the study funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says is the high rate of HIV infection especially among those operating through online platforms.
“MSM engaged in virtual networks remained at a two to threefold higher risk of HIV prevalence compared to those who work in physical sites or use both strategies,” says the report appearing in the Journal of the International AIDS Society.
Among those on virtual networks alone HIV prevalence was 26.7 per cent, 8.5 per cent among those using physical sites only and 15.4 per cent among those using both strategies.
This virtual dependent group is likely to have a college education but little income. “We hypothesize that this may be because the group includes a large proportion of unemployed college or other students.”
Following the findings the researchers suggest more inquiry to understand online sex networks so as to reach them with HIV prevention interventions.
Two years ago, in 2018, the Ministry of Health reported unearthing a huge number of gay men in the three counties who transact through online networking sites.
The Virtual Mapping exercise had uncovered 6,672 gay men from Kisumu, Kiambu, and Mombasa counties. These counties had been selected because of their high HIV prevalence rates.
The mapping had recorded 1,567 MSM in Kisumu, 1,469 in Mombasa and 3,635 in Kiambu. It is estimated there are about are 19,175 MSM in Kenya.