Austria — Leading figures in the global AIDS response attending the on-going 2010 international AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria are focusing on rapidly increasing rates of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) and on the pressing need to promote broad access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for MSM worldwide.
A media briefing at the AIDS 2010 conference proffered strategies to reverse the stigma, discrimination, human rights abuses and lack of targeted services that are leading to rapidly increasing HIV infection rates among MSM.
The impact of the epidemic on MSM worldwide was documented and analysed as part of a highly successful day-long symposium, "BE HEARD," hosted by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF).
The views of participants at Tuesday’s press conference indicated that HIV among MSM is no longer seen as either a small or isolated problem, but rather as a major driver of the global epidemic.
MSM in low- and middle-income countries are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population, yet only one in five has access to the HIV prevention, care and treatment services they need.
Press conference speakers outlining the need for greatly improved responses to the impact of HIV on MSM included Elly Katabira (President-Elect of the International AIDS Society [IAS]), Stephen Lewis (Co-Director of AIDS-Free World); Paul DeLay (Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS), George Ayala (Executive Officer of the MSMGF), Gift Trapence (Director of the Centre for the Development of People, Malawi [CEDEP]), Joel Nana (Executive Director of the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights [AMSHaR]) and prominent Moroccan AIDS activist, Othman Mellouk.
"Discrimination against MSM is not limited to any one area of the world, and the failure to respect the human rights of MSM and integrate MSM communities into evidence-based HIV prevention efforts is a driver of the epidemic in every global region," said incoming International AIDS Society (IAS) President Elly Katabira.
"In many parts of the world, MSM are the group most impacted by HIV. Even where the epidemic is predominantly heterosexual, MSM bear a large but often overlooked share of the HIV burden," he outlined.
The recently unveiled Strategic Plan of the IAS calls for the scale up of HIV prevention for men who have sex with men, removal of laws criminalising homosexuality and advocacy to ensure that governments and bodies such as National AIDS Commissions fund and provide HIV-related services for MSM.
"When MSM are involved in AIDS responses, HIV rates decline," said George Ayala, Executive Officer of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF).
"When MSM are ignored or stigmatised, HIV transmission in MSM communities increases. Respecting the human rights of MSM is not only the right and just thing to do – it is also an essential piece of good public health policy that can significantly reduce the size and impact of this epidemic," Ayala said.