International HIV Sidelines Gay Men

Published: May 7, 2011

International HIV Sidelines Gay Men

Every two years the world’s biggest HIV conference faces criticism for sidelining the needs of gay men, sex workers, transgender people, and injecting drug users. The International AIDS Society conference visited Vienna in 2010, around 25,000 people attended, but it still grossly under-represented four groups most at risk for HIV infection.

A detailed study by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), confirms the long-held suspicions and criticism of this neglect, and calls for change.

The International AIDS Society may be part of the problem, but it can solve it.

Shame of stigma and discrimination

Stigma and discrimination against marginalised and unpopular groups affected by HIV is unprofessional and brings shame on the International AIDS Society.

The 2010 conference programme seriously neglected key needs. There is little exclusive time and exposure given to the four groups, and the four groups are often ignored even in general studies. 

  • Only 6.6% of the abstracts of studies were only concerned with gay and bi men / MSM, 5.7% targeted only people who use drugs, 3.5% looked only at sex workers, and 0.6% solely considered transgender people.
  • Only 3.8% of ordinary conference sessions exclusively focused on gay and bi men / MSM, 5.1% on IDU people, 2.5% on sex workers and 0% on transgender people.
  • Just 3.7% of all workshops exclusively focused on gay and bi men / MSM, 6.4% on people who use drugs, and 0% on sex workers and 0% on transgender people.
  • Out of over 4,500 abstracts sent in for selection and publicity, only 558 even mentioned MSM, only 442 mentioned IDU, just 338 mentioned sex workers, and a bare 134 mentioned transgender people.
  • Only 2.6% of all sessions in the entire conference programme exclusively focused on MSM, 4.5% exclusively focused on IDU, 3.0% on sex workers and 1.1% on transgender people.

The percentage of all sessions at the conference exclusively focused on the four marginalised groups was 2.6% for MSM, 1.1% for transgender people, 3% for sex workers and 4.5% for people who use drugs.

Research shows these four populations are at higher risk for HIV than the general population in nearly every country where reliable data exist.

Compare tiny conference gestures with actual needs

  • MSM represent more than a quarter of HIV infections in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • People who inject drugs are more than half of HIV infections in Eastern Europe
  • Up to half of all sex workers across Sub-Saharan Africa have HIV
  • Transgender people in El Salvador, Indonesia and India have HIV rates as high as 25%, 35%, and 42% respectively.

"Abysmal representation reinforces discrimination and invisibility"

“While the International AIDS Society turns a blind eye, HIV rates among these populations continue to climb around the world,” said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Officer of the MSMGF.

“The IAC is the world’s most important opportunity for international exchange and collaboration on HIV and AIDS. Such abysmal representation of most-at-risk groups only serves to reinforce the invisibility, discrimination and disregard that drive the epidemic among these communities.”

“Ostensibly, the IAC offers chances for local healthcare providers to learn ways to improve their services, provides channels for advocates to engage in dialogue with powerful decision-makers, and creates opportunities for community members to shape global funding and research agendas,” said Dr. Mohan Sundararaj, Policy Associate at the MSMGF. “This really is a phenomenal platform, but how useful can it be when those who need it most are locked out?”

Calls for change
The report recommends steps to make the Conference programme fairer, based on the numbers of people affected . These include involving the communities affected in the conference planning.

“The International AIDS Conference has unparalleled potential to impact the global AIDS epidemic,” said Dr. Ayala. “It is incumbent upon the organizers to ensure that the IAC becomes a vehicle for change, shifting the global landscape so that funding, research and programs are directed to those who need them most. Right now it’s part of the problem.”

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