'Stigma prevents access to HIV services

Published: April 21, 2011

PUNE: The two-day state-level convention of MSM (men having sex with men), Saptarang (Rainbow), that concluded in Panhala on Wednesday had participants unanimously asserting that the stigma, discrimination and criminalisation faced by the community prevent universal access to HIV prevention services, treatment, care and support.

Darshana Vyas, project director, Pathfinder International, said, "The convention was held at Panhala (Kolhapur district) and was an attempt to re-energise the MSM community, strengthen community feeling and leverage greater leadership and involvement in project governance and implementation."

She said that community-based organisations (CBOs) formed so far, have to gradually evolve into a state-level federation acting as a constant support to the community and giving voice to their issues. "We not only need to ensure that the community is made part of the mainstream, but also continue and scale our efforts to reach the unreached."

The convention was organised by Pathfinder International which has been implementing the Mukta project to reduce prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS among the most at risk populations such as female sex workers (FSW), MSMs and their partners. Now working in five districts of Maharashtra, the project seeks to transition the management and implementation of the HIV programme to CBOs.

The convention held at Panhala brought together around 300 community members from six districts of Maharashtra, namely Kolhapur, Latur, Nasik, Beed, Pune and Yavatmal where CBOs have been formed. Various groups and institutions working with the MSM community such as Samabhavana Society, Samapathik and Udaan also attended the convention. The event included guided discussions on strengthening communication for behaviour change, raising awareness on human rights, entitlements and imparting micro-planning, leadership and team-building skills.

Sameer Kumta, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that supports HIV prevention programmes in the districts, underlined the need for leadership from within the community and called upon the members to take ownership of the work and share responsibilities.

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