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Multilayered Stigma And Vulnerabilities For HIV Infection And Transmission: A Qualitative Study On Male Sex Workers In Zimbabwe

Eileen Yuk-ha Tsang, Shan Qiao, Jeffrey S. Wilkinson, Annis Lai-chu Fung, Freddy Lipeleke, Xiaoming Li

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Male sex workers are marginalized in most societies due to intersectional stigma between prostitution and homosexuality. In Zimbabwe, a proliferation of male sex workers in major cities such as Harare and Bulawayo has been reported. However, there is a shortage of studies that explore their lives. The current qualitative study aims to describe the practices of sex work, life contexts, and HIV risks and vulnerabilities based on in-depth interviews among 15 male sex workers in Bulawayo. Our studies suggest that the stigma against male sex workers comes from diverse sectors including culture (“homosexuality is un-African, introduced by the Whites”), religion (“same sex is a sin before the God”), law and police (“homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe. Engaging in it can send one to prison”), media (“the media is hostile to sex workers particularly men as we are regarded as abnormal and unclean”), and their family (“should they get to know about it, they will disown me”). In this context, male sex workers were excluded from national HIV prevention and treatment programs. They had limited knowledge and many misconceptions about HIV. The stigma and discrimination from health-care providers also discouraged them from health seeking or HIV testing. The non-disclosure to female partners of convenience and sexual relations further increased their vulnerabilities to HIV infection and transmission. Current efforts to address the HIV epidemic should pay attention to male sex workers and tackle the intersecting stigma issues. male sex workers need support and tailored HIV prevention and treatment services to improve their HIV prevention practices, health, and well-being.