Bangkok, 21 December – The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) have released a new publication series intending to document and circulate good practices, share progress, stimulate discussion, and inform priority interventions and advocacy efforts to address the rising HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Asia.
The MSM Country Snapshots were initiated in recognition of the difficulty of accessing up-to-date country-level information on MSM and HIV. Most importantly, they allow for convenient access to key findings for anyone with limited access to academic journals or knowledge of sources for biological and behavioral surveillance data. The documents synthesize key findings at time of publication that span four areas of strategic information: epidemiological, behavioral, programmatic and legal.
The Commission on AIDS in Asia predicted in 2008 that without a scaled-up response for MSM, our collective efforts to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic in the region would be unsuccessful. Almost five years later, those predictions have come true in many of Asia’s mega cities. According to the Regional Advisors at the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, “There is an urgent need for strategic investment in innovative MSM programming in the region and immediate action is required in key cities where prevalence rates are high.”
One of the primary uses of the Snapshots is to disseminate recent epidemiological and behavioral data. For instance, the 15 snapshots reveal a median estimate of HIV prevalence among MSM of 4.4 percent, with individual national estimates as high as 20 percent, i.e., there are already several countries in the region that meet the definition of having concentrated epidemics among MSM. Men who have sex with men were found to represent a growing proportion of new infections in several countries. In the Philippines, sex between men was estimated to account for 80.2 percent of new cases of HIV reported in July 2012.
“The data embedded in this series not only give us insights into the challenges that we face, but also the many opportunities to turn the HIV epidemic around among men who have sex with men,” stated Clifton Cortez, Practice Leader, HIV, Health and Development, UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre in Bangkok. “It is now clear that we must refocus and reinvest in effective city-based HIV interventions reinforced by helpful laws, policies and practices.”
The milestone United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting and Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS (2011), which set a broad agenda for the world’s ongoing response to HIV, included the concession that country-level prevention strategies “do not adequately reflect infection patterns or sufficiently focus on populations at higher risk.” This is a reality that largely reflects what was found among the 15 countries included in this series. For instance, the median proportion of total national HIV prevention expenditure estimated to benefit MSM was 3.2 percent among the 15 countries, with the lowest value of 0.2 percent in Mongolia and the highest value of 12.2 percent in Nepal. The Snapshots describe new funding opportunities for HIV prevention activities targeted to MSM amid evidence of widespread resource misallocation.
“From a community perspective, the MSM Country Snapshot series is a powerful tool to be used when doing advocacy with national and sub-national governmental departments, development organizations and donors as they are armed with most up-to-date epidemiology and behavioural data, programme situation and the legal environment information,” said Midnight Poonkasetwatana, Executive Director of APCOM.
The MSM Country Snapshots were developed collaboratively between UNDP, UNAIDS, APCOM and the HIV and AIDS Data Hub for Asia-Pacific. National AIDS authorities and country-level civil society organizations were heavily involved in providing surveillance, policy, and programmatic information. The South Asia MSM Country Snapshots were directly supported by UNDP under the South Asia Multi-Country Global Fund Round 9 Programme.
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