PLOS One published an LSTM led study this week which presented the outcomes of Libya’s first bio-behavioural survey among men having sex with men (MSM) and female sex workers (FSW). Amongst the former group an HIV prevalence of 3.1% was being estimated; a prevalence of 2.9% for hepatitis B and 7.3% for hepatitis C. Amongst the latter group an HIV prevalence of 15.7% was being measured; 0% for hepatitis B and 5.2% for hepatitis C.
The study detected high levels of risk behaviours; poor HIV-related knowledge; high stigma and lack of prevention programmes. The results must be interpreted in the context of the political situation which, amongst others, prohibited an ideal sample size for the FSW group when they were being recruited for the study in 2011.
However, the study does show an urgent need to implement an effective national HIV strategy in Libya that is informed by the results of this research. The risk of transmission within the different risk groups is high with a growing potential to spread to the general population given the recent military events that led to increased violence; migration and disruption of essential HIV-related services.
The PLOS One publication follows an earlier LSTM study published in JAIDS in April, and picked up by various mediasince, that reported on probably the highest levels of HIV infection worldwide amongst People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in the absence of a comprehensive harm-reduction programme and also called for the implementation of a national HIV strategy.
Both studies were conducted by LSTM’s Professor Joseph J. Valadez, Dr Sima Berendes, Dr Caroline Jeffery, Dr Abdullah A. Turki, Rabea Saffialden and Dr Lusine Mirzoyan, in collaboration with Dr Hussain Ben Othman of theNational Centre for Diseases Control, National AIDS Programme, Tripoli, Libya, and Joanna Thomson and Dr Leon Danon of the Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom.