Romania’s first HIV positive men who have sex with men (MSM) peer support network
T. Kovacs, T. Ban
PSI Romania, Programs, Bucharest, Romania
Issues: HIV stigma within the MSM community has a negative effect on access to services and social support among both HIV negative and positive MSM. HIV+ MSM become isolated and engage in avoidant coping strategies and sexual risk taking. The reluctance to disclose one’s status and the lack of visible HIV+ MSM often causes uninfected MSM to deny their susceptibility, refuse HIV testing and engage in risky sexual behaviors while at the same time isolating their positive peers.
Description: PSI started Romania’s first network of HIV+ MSM in 2008 through an anonymous email system. Membership has grown from 6 to 42 members. Participants share information about their daily lives (health, social and emotional life) and provide mutual psychosocial support through on-line chats and in-person, national meetings. The network has a dedicated section on the MSM program’s website and populates it with health and social science resources. In an effort to reduce stigma directed towards HIV+ MSM, PSI Romania recruited one member to facilitate talks among members of the gay community about living with HIV.
Lessons learned: Response from HIV+ MSM is positive once they overcome fear of their status being disclosed. Many said the network became their reason to continue living and the only space where they feel accepted by others and free to be themselves. The visibility of the network on the MSM website increases the awareness of HIV-associated issues among the broader MSM community.
Next steps: As the network continues to grow, it is important for its members to be empowered and to take ownership for its functionality so that it becomes self sustaining and independent. In order to continue to reduce HIV stigma among MSM, the network will develop HIV stigma reduction activities targeting MSM and therefore will become increasingly visible among the broader MSM community.