‘Just getting by’: a cross-sectional study of male sex workers as a key population for HIV/STIs among men who have sex with men in Peru

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Abstract

Objectives

To describe the sociodemographic and sex work characteristics, recent sexual practices, HIV risk perception and testing history, and HIV and syphilis prevalence of Cercado (downtown) and non-Cercado (close urban) male sex workers (MSWs) in Lima, Peru.

Methods

Eighty-nine MSWs completed a self-administered survey and participated in HIV and syphilis testing.

Results

Cercado MSWs had significantly lower median weekly earnings than non-Cercado MSWs (US$43 vs US$72, p=0.04). Most non-Cercado MSWs (81%) reported only insertive anal intercourse with male/transgender partners, while Cercado MSWs primarily reported only insertive (52%) or insertive and receptive (45%) anal intercourse (p=0.03). Consistent condom use was low with insertive and receptive anal intercourse in both subgroups. Among MSWs with recent female partners, condom use with the last partner was lower among Cercado versus non-Cercado MSWs for vaginal sex (37% vs 65%, p=0.04) and anal sex (27% vs 80%, p=0.01). More Cercado than non-Cercado MSWs (57% vs 42%) perceived high HIV risk (p=0.05) and Cercado MSWs had a much higher prevalence than non-Cercado MSWs of HIV (23% vs 4%, p=0.04) and syphilis (22% vs 0%, p=0.02) infections.

Conclusions

MSWs in Lima are diverse and Cercado MSWs are ‘just getting by,’ engaging in more risk behaviours, and more likely to have HIV/STIs. Future research should identify, describe and carry out HIV/STI testing with broader groups of MSWs and their client and non-client partners. Prevention efforts should provide HIV/STI risk reduction education for MSWs and related subgroups who are currently not targeted such as female partners.

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