On 23 to 25 May this year, the Anova Health Institute together with PEPFAR will hold a regional symposium aiming to consolidate and review current trends and research related to HIV prevention, treatment and care among men who have sex with other men (MSM) in South Africa to be held at the Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town.
Glenn de Swardt, Programme Manager for Anova Health Institute, said the symposium will serve as a valuable platform for exchange of information and ideas in terms of increasing knowledge and insight into MSM and HIV, and will help stimulate more research and commitment to more services for MSM, through plenary sessions and presentations, workshops and poster displays, prepared for the symposium.”
“There is an ever-increasing awareness of MSM being both at increased risk of HIV infections, as well as being marginalised and often ignored by the mainstream health care system. Significant research is being undertaken among diverse MSM groupings and it is important that this data is shared and discussed with peers in order to broaden our scope on the issues at play and the services that are required”, de Swardt revealed.
The symposium will feature plenary sessions on prevention among MSM, diverse aspects of treatment and care, presentations and a series of skills building workshops.
“In addition to sharing information and research, we are hopeful that the symposium will renew participants’ commitment to the on-going challenges we face. The symposium will also feature an international expert on HIV among transgender people, which we hope will focus attention on the health care needs of this very marginalised community”, de Swardt added.
De Swardt revealed that little is being done to respond to the escalating HIV prevalence amongst MSM’s.
“MSM are generally excluded from traditional heterosexist safer sex messaging, and prejudice against such men remains institutionalised within some sectors of the public health system. For example, many organisations distribute free condoms to men but forget that people who engage in anal intercourse require water-based lubrication; countless men are using products such as petroleum jelly, body lotions or margarine as lubricants, all of which contribute to condom failure because of their oil content”, said de Swardt.
An online survey conducted by the OUT LGBT Well-being in 2007 suggested that a minimum of 5 % of men in South Africa have sex with other men.
“There is no doubt at all that any element of prejudice impacts on health care, in that it negates people’s access to services. In countries where same sex practices are criminalised, MSM are completely stigmatised and often too fearful to approach a community clinic. Often, when such men do access a health service, they cannot be honest about their health care needs or sexual risk profile, and therefor do not receive relevant care or information”, de Swardt said.
The Anova Health Institute works to improve access to public healthcare in South Africa, with particular focus on HIV and AIDS. This includes strengthening and improving the capacity of existing systems and training staff. The first public sector clinic Health4Men dedicated to MSM sexual health in Africa was established in Cape Town as a project of the Anova Health Institute in partnership with the Department of Health. A second clinic was subsequently launched in Soweto. Health4Men also provides medical services in Pretoria through OUT LGBT Wellbeing.
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