UNAIDS Reinforces Role in Combating HIV/AIDS Among Men Who Have Sex with Men
U.S. State Department instrumental in lobbying efforts
For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager, (212) 806-1602
NEW YORK, June 28, 2010—amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Monday welcomed the news that the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) called for the intensifying of efforts to meet the health needs of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people and applauded the U.S. State Department for helping to support the board’s decision.
The PCB meeting, which last week brought together more than 300 participants and observers from United Nations Member States, international organizations, and NGOs—including representatives from amfAR—marked a turning point in the official UNAIDS response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. MSM are deemed a vulnerable population in large part because widespread prejudice and discrimination often consign them to the margins of society and limit their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care. Currently, nearly 80 countries have laws that ban same-sex sexual behavior, and, on average, MSM in developing countries are 19 times more likely to be HIV-positive than the general population.
“We cannot reach vulnerable populations with life-saving public health services if their behavior is against the law,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.
The U.S. State Department, which oversees PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), one of the largest international contributors to the AIDS relief effort, recently identified MSM as a key population in its five-year strategy. Addressing the board, a PEPFAR representative underscored the important role that targeting MSM and protecting human rights must play in an effective global HIV/AIDS response.
“As we intensify outreach to persons who engage in high-risk behaviors, including MSM, sex workers, and injecting drug users, our strategies must be sensitive to the individuals participating in high-risk behaviors,” said Deborah von Zinkernagel, principal deputy global AIDS coordinator for the State Department, during her remarks at the meeting. “No matter how effective the intervention, it is imperative that we engage with respect for human rights.”
With the new direction, the PCB requested that UN Member States, with support from UNAIDS, determine ways to involve key populations at risk in HIV programs and data collection.
amfAR has long recognized that a strong HIV/AIDS response must include specific outreach to MSM and transgender populations. In response to high infection rates among MSM, in 2007 amfAR established the MSM Initiative, which so far has awarded more than $1.9 million in grants to support 79 front-line organizations serving MSM in 53 countries.
“While community groups are leading the response in many low- and middle-income countries, their impact will remain limited if MSM and other vulnerable groups are not included in government and multilateral planning efforts,” said Chris Collins, amfAR’s vice president and director of public policy, who addressed the board. “Only by including the affected group in decision making and program design can you be effective.”
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $307 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.