Health4Men and Play Nice, campaigns to bring HIV health services to men from underserved populations, were launched in Cape Town today during the city's Pride Festival.
Zackie Achmat, internationally recognized HIV treatment and human rights activist, and David Furnish, Trustee of the Elton John Aids Foundation, spoke at the launch.
Health4Men is an innovative programme by the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) that targets men from underserved populations, including men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and unemployed young men in South Africa.
At Health4Men, men can access a range of sexual health services, including free HIV testing, CD4 counts, STI screening, counseling and referrals to doctors and therapists, as well as condoms and lubricants.
The first Health4Men service opened in De Waterkant, the heart of Cape Town's "gay village". A larger clinic at Woodstock hospital is planned, as well as similar services in other provinces.
MSM men neglected
Men, especially MSM, have been neglected in most of the country's previous HIV programmes, which have focused on the dominant heterosexual and female epidemic.
Achmat said that one of the reasons he is supporting the initiative is the heavy toll that HIV has taken in the gay community. "For a few decades now the leadership of the lesbian/gay movement in South Africa, the older leadership, have been decimated by the epidemic," he said.
Results from a recent survey in Soweto, Gauteng, by PHRU and the University of San Francisco found that about 21% of MSM were HIV-positive. Forty-four percent reported they had also had sex with women, and 41% reported unprotected anal intercourse among their last five partners.
Health4Men is linked to Play Nice, a public awareness campaign on MSM sex and HIV-prevention and treatment issues. Play Nice promotes safer sexual practices with frank, relevant information that offers ways to reduce infection risk and draws men into care programmes.
Also speaking at the launch today, David Furnish commented: "Africa's HIV/Aids response has been hugely scaled up over the last few years; however MSM have received little of this attention. The Health4Men and Play Nice campaigns signal a renewed commitment to meeting the needs of this community in the Western Cape."
Achmat also spoke about the difficulty many gay and lesbian people still have in accessing information about safe sex. He made particular mention of the difficulties gay and lesbian children at school face in accessing information and pointed out that there is a lack of programmes supporting them and explaining how they can protect themselves should they be sexually active.
Adapted from a press release issued by PHRU and Health4Men, 26 February 2009
(- Olivia Rose-Innes and Marcus Low, Health24, February, 2009)