Fighting HIV Among MSM, One Community at a Time
MSM Initiative Working in 49 Countries
Free FORUM provides HIV/AIDS information to MSM across the Caribbean.
November 17, 2009—In a little more than two years, amfAR has funded 68 organizations in 49 countries through the MSM Initiative, making community awards that support a wide range of HIV research, prevention, education, and advocacy projects serving men who have sex with men (MSM). amfAR’s grassroots partners are reporting back from around the globe with remarkable stories of their achievements and the day-to-day challenges they face.
In Trinidad and Tobago, MSM, NO POLITICAL AGENDA advocates for MSM and provides HIV prevention and treatment information across the Caribbean. One of its main projects, supported in 2009 with MSM Initiative funding, is a magazine called Free FORUM. Published in print and online, Free FORUM’s purpose “is to fill the HIV/AIDS prevention and education gap experienced by many MSM in the Caribbean. Besides discussing health and psychosocial issues, it is one of the only existing HIV/AIDS periodicals that provides relevant and ongoing information concerned with treatment, care, prevention, and human rights.”
According to the group, “We produced and distributed 3,000 hard copies this year to approximately 1,000 MSM in 16 Caribbean countries. In consideration of the political, cultural, and social environments, this is quite an achievement. The majority of in-country prevention, treatment, and care programs still do not meet the needs of vulnerable populations, particularly MSM.”
In Blantyre, Malawi, the CENTRE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLE has been able to help push the issue of HIV among MSM onto the national stage despite tough challenges, among them the country’s harsh sodomy laws. “The main issue here is the knowledge gap,” the group reports. “Many MSM are ignorant of their risk for HIV transmission because there has been no national HIV/AIDS program targeting MSM. Policy makers and HIV programmers are also ignorant.”
Supported by the MSM Initiative, the Centre organized a sexual health workshop attended by officials from UNAIDS and the country’s national AIDS commission—the first time representatives of the Malawi government had acknowledged the existence of MSM. By marshalling local research and the weight of global advocacy, the Centre for the Development of People has been able to move Malawi one step closer to taking up the fight against HIV among the country’s MSM.
In Orenburg, Russia, NEW LIFE is addressing the stigma and discrimination that MSM often confront when they seek healthcare. Supported by the MSM Initiative, New Life recently organized a roundtable—“the first event of this kind in Russia,” according to the group—at which MSM activists sat down to discuss healthcare concerns with medical personnel who provide health services for MSM.
The New Life group in Orenburg, Russia, has formed a partnership with local doctors to provide HIV prevention and treatment services for MSM.
“Despite a high level of stigma and discrimination against MSM from the general population in Orenburg (and sometimes from medical specialists),” said New Life, “this meeting of experts was very productive. As a result, an agreement of cooperation between New Life and state medical institutions was signed, accepting the basic concept of a partnership to provide HIV prevention and medical services for MSM. And all participants have agreed to work jointly on the HIV/AIDS prevention program among MSM for the Orenburg region.”
In Monrovia, Liberia, CONCERN FOR HUMANITY has launched an unprecedented effort to gather data on the extent of HIV risk among MSM. The information gathered to date documents the existence of a sizeable community of MSM in Liberia—a population that “seems [to be] on the rise,” according to the group. “Moreover, these men are no more educated on HIV/AIDS and STDs than the general population, and they are no less exposed to the risk of HIV/AIDS. In fact, they may be in greater danger for contracting and/or transmitting HIV because of being closeted.”
Concern for Humanity’s research will be presented to the Liberian government with the recommendation that the MSM community be included in the country’s national AIDS programs “to ensure that they are a partner in the mitigation of HIV/AIDS in Liberia.”
In Belgrade, Serbia, GAYTEN—the Center for Promotion of LGBTIQ Human Rights—is training MSM as peer counselors to help provide HIV prevention and treatment information, and referrals to healthcare and social services. With MSM Initiative funding, a hotline is being set up and counselors are actively involved in outreach. While the work is going well, crippling discrimination remains a huge problem.
One of Gayten’s counselors, who has been working with MSM in Serbia’s Roma community, sketches one part of the picture: “The dominant society with its institutions is discriminatory toward both Roma and LGBT. At the same time, the LGBT community (which is predominantly white and non-Roma) is biased and often hostile towards Roma persons.”
Quoting a Roma man he knows, the Gayten counselor suggests how hard it can be to address HIV healthcare among some communities of MSM: “White gay men hate us, they don’t want to do anything with us. I cannot go to the doctors because all medical facilities in this country are for white people and I cannot tell the doctor that I had sex with another man—that is just too much for me.”