Sex Transm Infect 82:iii3-iii9 doi:10.1136/sti.2005.019489

Estimating the number of men who have sex with men in low and middle income countries

  1. C Cáceres1,
  2. K Konda1,
  3. M Pecheny2,
  4. A Chatterjee3,
  5. R Lyerla3
  1. 1Cayetano Heredia University, Lima, Peru
  2. 2University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  3. 3UNAIDS, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor C Caceres
 451 Av Armendáriz, Lima 18, Peru; ccaceres{at}
  • Accepted 1 April 2006


Objectives: To collect and analyse published and unpublished surveillance and research data on the prevalence of same sex sexual activity among male adults (including male-to-female transgenders and sex workers) in low and middle income countries.

Methods: Key indicators were operationalised (ever sex with a man, sex with a man last year, high risk sex last year (as defined by unprotected anal sex or commercial sex)) and a database was designed for data collection. Searches were conducted (PubMed, databases (US Census Bureau, World Bank, conferences)) and regional informants helped. Reference reports were used to assess the methodology and quality of information in each record. The best data available per region were identified and indicator estimates were used to propose regional range estimates.

Results: Of 561 studies on male sexual behaviour and/or MSM population characteristics, 67 addressed prevalence of sex between men, with diverse numbers per region and virtual unavailability in sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East/North Africa, and the English speaking Caribbean. Overall, data on lifetime prevalence of sex with men (among males) yielded figures of 3–5% for East Asia, 6–12% for South and South East Asia, 6–15% for Eastern Europe, and 6–20% for Latin America. Last year figures were approximately half of lifetime figures, and prevalence of high risk sex among MSM last year was approximately 40–60% in all regions except South Asia, where it is 70–90%.

Conclusions: Data available on the prevalence of male same sex sexual activity across regions are scarce (non-existent in some areas), with validity and comparability problems. In South and South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, a lifetime prevalence of 6–20% was estimated, with smaller figures in East Asia. A cross cultural analysis of terminology and practices is needed, as is continued work on epidemiological and social analysis of male-male sexual practices in societies across regions.


  • * Potentially the following definitions of MSM can be considered: (1) ever sex with other men (“ever MSM”); (2) sex with other men in past X months (“currently MSM”); (3) sex with other men in past X months and highly sexually active (“high risk MSM”).

  • “Full methodological description” includes a definition of MSM appropriate to the specific research question.

  • Edited by Peter Ghys, Neff Walker, Helen Ward and Rob Miller