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HIV and men who have sex with men

Criminalisation of male-male sex is a key driver of the HIV epidemic among MSM in many countries / Jeroen Oerlemans - Panos Pictures

Are world governments in denial about the crisis facing MSMs?

As pressure continues to mount on world governments to address the drivers behind increased vulnerability of men who have sex with men (MSM) to HIV, Dr Jorge Saavedra Lopez, Head of the National HIV/AIDS Programme in Mexico, is urging all involved in the global fight against HIV and AIDS to use scientific evidence, financing, and a human rights framework, as the weapons to tackle the growing epidemic among MSM globally.

Dr Saavedra Lopez pointed out that while scientific evidence to guide programmes for MSM exists, it is not being amplified and given credence.

“A vast amount of scientific evidence exists that can effectively guide programmes to address the crucial issues affecting MSMs.

However, what is lacking is the political will to implement programmes that would be guided by this comprehensive body of knowledge,” Dr Saavedra Lopez stated.

He said criminalisation of male-male sex activity is a major driver of the epidemic among MSM in many countries.

A press release this week from amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), stated that while known data on HIV prevalence among MSM is scarce, MSM are at least 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population in Asia, and at least four times more likely than in Africa.

The UNAIDS’ 2008 Global Report on the AIDS Epidemic, which was released early last week, identified Kenya, Jamaica, Benin, Thailand and Ghana as the countries with the highest reported HIV prevalence among MSM. Seven of the ten countries which have a high prevalence among MSM criminalise homosexuality.

Two years ago, at the IAC in Toronto, Canada, amfAR launched The Global Forum on MSM & HIV, an initiative to address the vulnerability of MSM globally, at the grassroots level.

Globally, 86 countries criminalise male-male sexual activity, and homosexuality is punishable by death in seven countries.

“This institutionalised stigma and discrimination frequently prevents MSM from accessing even basic HIV/AIDS services,” amfAR stated.

“Finally! A plenary dedicated to sex between men!” Dr Saavedra Lopez announced jubilantly, to thunderous applause.

Dr Saavedra Lopez stressed the need for government responses to address the current crisis facing MSMs and noted that many governments did not include data on MSM activities and needs in the 2007 reports to UNAIDS.

“Only 31 per cent of countries worldwide reported on MSM activities in their annual country reports to UNAIDS,” he stated. “In spite of mounting evidence, the crisis facing MSMs is not a priority for most governments. World governments are in denial!”

Dr Saavedra Lopez emphasised that all areas of society have a role to play in turning the tide, and have linked HIV to MSM, with related issues becoming a central focus.

He pointed out the effectiveness of sustained pressure cannot be over-emphasised, noting that Panama, the last country in Latin America to repeal its buggery law two days before the beginning of the IAC 2008, did so in the face of mounting pressure from the conference organisers.

This article originally appeared in Panoscope – the AIDS 2008 conference newspaper produced by the Panos Global Aids Programme.

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Andrea Downer

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08/06/2008

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