Connecticut-based public health researcher speaks on groups vulnerable to HIV/AIDS

Monika Doshi, the Principal of Saath, a small public health consulting firm based in Connecticut, gives a talk in the SU Rainbow Center, UConn Storrs campus on Wednesday. This talk focused on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and sexual minorities, specifically men who have sex with men (MSM). (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Worldwide in 2015, 36.7 million people were estimated to be living with HIV, according to the The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). India is home to the third largest epidemic where, according to the World Health Organization, 2.1 million people are living with HIV as of 2015.

The five groups that have the greatest risk of HIV, independent of where they live, are “men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prison and other closed settings, sex workers and transgender people,” Monika Doshi said at a Rainbow Center presentation on Wednesday.  

Doshi is the principal of Saath, a public health consulting firm based in Connecticut. Doshi spent 14 years in India and six in Kenya studying HIV. In her lecture, Doshi focused on five key populations, who, due to behaviors, legal and social issues, are at greater risk for HIV infection.

“In most countries with generalized HIV epidemics, the response has focused almost exclusively on the general population,” Doshi said.

For example, the U.S had a lag between the recognition and funds being allocated to address the prevalence in HIV/AIDS back in the 1980’s, Doshi explained. The political non-willingness that prevented recognition, was emphasized to support her point in regards to overlooking key populations

Estimates on the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) is 18.2 percent nationally in Kenya and 4.3 percent in India. However, in both countries  it varies by region. In major urban areas, for instance, HIV prevalence among MSM is 13 times more than in the general population, Doshi said.

Doshi repeated multiple times that although the percent of MSM living with HIV in India may seem small, because the population is large, it turns out to be a lot of infected MSM.

Doshi said that behavioral factors in MSM such as alcohol consumption, number of partners, unprotected sex and anal sex impact HIV vulnerability.

The most affected groups in Kenya are sex workers, and their clients, people who inject drugs (PWID) and MSM. However, the socio-cultural and political milieu focuses mainly on heterosexual transmission, Doshi said.

Doshi spoke of the importance of recognizing critical enablers for HIV in a community. She suggested reviewing laws and policies, reducing stigma, preventing violence and empowering the community.

Throughout the presentation, Doshi urged students to become more aware of HIV in Kenya and India and the problems it poses.

“We should engage key populations, including MSM, as partners in developing and providing HIV prevention, treatment and care related services.  We should repeal antiquated sodomy laws, promote and safeguard enabling environments, and protect human rights through laws and policies”, Doshi said.


Sharon Sorto is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at sharon.sorto@uconn.edu.