'We're being heard – but not loud enough'

Published: July 17, 2010

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director-Programme, Dr. Paul De Lay, joined a panel of global health leaders in a briefing on MSM issues for journalists attending the XVIII International AIDS Conference. The briefing follows the MSM Global Forum (MSMGF) pre-conference that was held on 17 July where UNAIDS Executive Director, Mr Michel Sidibé, delivered a keynote address.

Dr. De Lay spoke on UNAIDS’ efforts to support men who have sex with men and to counter stigma and discrimination. “Homophobia is blocking the AIDS response. Laws need to work for HIV and human rights, not against it,” said Dr. De Lay. “Homophobia has to end, and UNAIDS together with the MSM community will tirelessly work towards this goal.”

In addition to Dr. De Lay, speakers included George Ayala, Executive Officer, MSMGF, Elly Katabira, President-Elect, the International AIDS Society, Stephen Lewis, Co-Director, AIDS-Free World, Othman Mellouk, HIV activist from Morocco, Joel Nana, Executive Director, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, and Gift Trapence, Director, Centre for the Development of People-Malawi.

“Be Heard” was the theme of the one-day pre-conference on men who have sex with men (MSM) and HIV. The message from speakers this morning’s opening plenary is that MSM, transgender people and other sexual minority communities are being heard but their voices are not resonating loud enough.

George Ayala, Executive Officer of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, the event organizer, shared his concern with delegates of the “backslide” of progress on human rights since the last International AIDS Conference in Mexico 2008—not just for MSM but all most-at-risk populations. Speakers shared reports of arrests and said that violence continues to undermine HIV programmes. Mr Ayala emphasized that the pre-conference session helps in ensuring MSM issues are communicated at the International AIDS Conference.  

The Executive Directors of UNAIDS, Mr Michel Sidibé, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Dr Michel Kazatchkine, lauded recent efforts in pushing forward a positive change to laws in many countries – from the removal of India’s sodomy law to the presidential pardon of two gay men in Malawi. Mr Sidibé called on the community to continue to challenge stigma and discrimination as well as the laws that block the AIDS response. “Our vision of zero new infections will never see the light of day if we do not see the decriminalization of people because of their sexual orientation.”

UNAIDS asked Mr Ayala to share some recent human rights developments within the MSM community:

-Click link below for video footage of Mr Ayala-

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