Pangaea was proud to be a co-sponsor of “Be Heard!,” the 4th MSM Pre-Conference sponsored by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), which took place today in Vienna. The Forum is an extremely important partner of Pangaea, and – as the only network of advocates from around the world, including developing countries, focused on HIV and men who have sex with men (MSM) – plays a critical role in the global AIDS response. The day-long Pre-Conference was a comprehensive meeting covering a full range of topics from legal issues to fundraising to grass roots organizing.
Of particular note was a session on the new UNAIDS outcome framework for MSM, sex workers and transgender populations, which focuses on major urban centers. There were also sessions on particular needs of MSM in Africa where the value of using public health as the primary entry point for strengthening MSM HIV services and access was highlighted. Another session focused on maximizing information technology – making use of existing portals and websites, but also capitalizing on new social media, where MSM are at the cutting edge.
One of the highlights of the Pre-Conference was a plenary session by Chris Beyrer, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, which for the first time in our experience provided some clear modeling of MSM prevalence on the African continent. Chris presented data that showed, for example, that while the prevalence of HIV in the general adult community in Malawi is 11.4%, the prevalence of HIV among MSM is 21.4%. The key message here is that HIV is a significant issue for MSM across Africa. Chris’ presentation also made the case that 100% coverage of HIV prevention and care for MSM would have a profound impact on reducing an overall country epidemic, thus reinforcing the point that there is a critical need for the HIV community to go beyond rhetoric about equal access for MSM and move to the development and implementation of meaningful and effective programs on the ground.
More than 700 activists, researchers, service providers and funders from over 100 countries attended the event. The lineup of presenters included top experts in health and human rights, including UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine, and AIDS-Free World Co-Director Stephen Lewis.
The Global Fund’s Kazatchkine praised the Global Forum for its work in bringing the global community together on MSM issues and lamented that MSM issues are generally lacking in the agenda of the Vienna conference itself. In doing so, he was echoing MSMGF Executive Officer George Ayala who stated before the conference: “As HIV prevalence rates among MSM soar and access to services remains abysmal, only 2 percent of all scheduled sessions at this year’s International AIDS Conference specifically address the needs of MSM.” The Global Forum helped fill this void.