The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) launched a global initiative yesterday at the International AIDS Society Conference in Sydney to fight the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM).
The general perception that the HIV/AIDS crisis has moved on from MSM is inaccurate, says amfAR: discrimination and denial of male-male sex, especially in the developing world, threatens to repeat the loss of life seen among gay men at the start of the epidemic.
New data indicates that the HIV pandemic among MSM is worsening. For example, in Kenya about 40% of MSM are HIV-positive compared with 6% HIV-positive in the general population.
‘MSM’ includes all men who have sex with other men, including men who identify themselves as ‘gay’, bisexual men and predominantly straight men who have sexual encounters with males.
In China, for example, it is estimated that 80% of MSM are married.
MSM also includes groups which defy Western categorization. For example, explained Asok Row Kavi of Indian MSM group the Humsafar Trust, there are at least three designations of MSM in India: kothis are effeminate men who are often married to women and have families; panthis are masculine men who have sex with kothis; hijras, who are often castrated, are considered to be a ‘third gender’.
Male-male sex is illegal in 85 countries, and even where it is not criminalized, stigma often prevents MSM from seeking HIV/AIDS prevention or treatment services. Fewer than one in 20 MSM globally have access to health care, making them highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
In some regions, up to half of all men report never having used a condom during male-male sex.
MSM groups rarely benefit from international treatment and care, says amFAR, because bilateral funding and grants from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are channeled mainly through national governments, many of which often ignore the needs of MSM.
HIV transmission among MSM is still not tracked in most countries.
“MSM in many countries still do not have the basic tools to protect themselves against the pandemic,” said amfAR Acting CEO Kevin Frost.
The amfAR initiative, launched yesterday at the International AIDS Society Conference in Sydney, aims to support grassroots MSM organizations, fund research and advocate for increased attention and funding for HIV/AIDS programmes focused on MSM.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24, July 2007
Source of statistics quoted: amfAR, UNAIDS